In his poem “Tuesday, June 4th, 1991,” poet Billy Collins writes of an ordinary day that would be forgotten if not for sitting “empty-headed at the typewriter with a cup of coffee, light and sweet.”
He begins to record his feelings, his thoughts, his surroundings. His mind travels through history. He captures images, real and imagined, in his stanzas “as unalterably as they are seated in their chairs in the ontological rooms of the world.”
Ontology. The study of being. Certainly this is what writers, what poets, do. I’ve said I write to know that I have lived… recording people, places, images, emotions, ideas, pulling back layers of meaning, discovering connecting threads. Attempting to capture or recreate bits of my existence, whether it is or once was tangible, or just a fleeting, ethereal breath of a thing in the mind… yet still being.
Collins ends his poem with an image of the goddess Eos, or Aurora, slipping out of bed (as his own wife had, prior to his waking and sitting down to write this poem):
But tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her,
barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.
As I sit here, now, at dawn, empty-headed at my laptop with a cup of coffee, feeling that I have nothing to offer today, Collins’ final lines whisper in my mind. They do not demand, or bang on the door, or tug. They do not pierce; they just stand, waiting, whispering. Aurora rises from the sound, from the mist, and I see her looking in at me, too. In the grayness there’s a flutter of her plain gown, of her long hair. I see those thin arms, one hand holding the birdsong and releasing it. I hear it, airy and new and alive again, as it is every morning.
And that small cup of light she’s offering.
I can almost see her earnest face, her pleading gray eyes: I brought it for you. It is yours. Please take it.
And I think, the day is new. What gifts will it bring? Unexpected little treasures that I don’t want to miss, just waiting… and what cup of light might I offer the day in return?
There’s only one thing to do. I know it as sure as I am sitting here.
I hold out my hand.
Photo: “Cupping the Light.” Caitlinator. CC BY 2.0