A cup of light

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.

Aurora smiles.

Photo: “Cupping the Light.”  CaitlinatorCC BY 2.0

14 thoughts on “A cup of light

    • Wheatley is so magnificent. I just read A Hymn to the Morning – thank you for the link. Okay… I suspect maybe Aurora is now calling me to write my own poem… or perhaps she’s bringing me one to write…

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  1. Fran, how beautifully you weaved Collin’s imagery and your own turning “feeling that I have nothing to offer today” to “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?” I’m happy you held out your hand, Aurora smiled at you today and in turn you shared your cup of light with us. You have inspired and brought happiness as you always do. Thank you!

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    • I love those lines of Collins so much – they’ve been waiting a while for me to acknowledge them. To me they are a beckoning to appreciate, to receive and to give, an appreciation of a new day. The imagery is so beautiful and peaceful. I am grateful for your words, Gail, and for the cup of light you always offer as well,

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  2. I love the imagery you bring here, Fran. And when I read “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…” well. Yes. There ARE days like that. Days where we do need to become more expectant, even for the small things that the day may bring us.

    This is something I’m going to hold on to. Thank you!

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    • Collins’ lines would not leave me. They sat in my mind, stirring gently, waiting patiently for me to realize that I was sitting there in the near-same setting of their creator when they were brought into existence. The dawn, the coffee, the empty-headedness … I so love his final lines and the beautiful, peaceful imagery. Besides waking safe in my home, still breathing, able to rise, and the coffee, they were the cup of light, the first gift of the day that I wanted to share. So glad you enjoyed. Thank you, Lainie.

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  3. Fran, you have added such beautiful imagery to your gentle wrapping of words around the sharing of this Billy Collins poem. I have taken the liberty of sharing your post on my Facebook page for Living Life Twice. Hope you don’t mind. It deserves to be read and appreciated. Mornings deserve our attention and appreciation. They deliver much for which we can feel gratitude. You have brightened my morning with this evocative post.

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  4. Morning brings such gentle thoughts, Fran, even on an ordinary day. Your words sink deep allowing me to reconstruct morning time when the sky obscure and dark held my attention. Waiting for a gentle nudge that signals whether rain or a breakthrough, I started with a broom and a box of decorations. I sit now reading through your post before my realtor starts the open house. I savor your thoughts that filter through like the light entering my window. Thanks for offering a soothing image to continue my day.

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  5. Fran, what beautiful writing comes from your “empty head”! Do you ever look back at your own words and wonder about the Muse that flowed through your fingertips onto that keyboard? This post reminds me that I must read more poetry–and grown-up poetry, at that– and pause to savor the words, preferably alone and with a sweet cup of coffee, ingesting the lines with each sip. For now, I will ponder Aurora’s offering, as I sit here in the darkness of predawn, go to work in that same darkness, come home in the darkening skies of dusk.

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    • I basically just show up and hope, Chris – marveling when the Muse leans in! I love your image of it. I am currently in a major poetry mode, We shall see where it – and Aurora – leads. Me as well as you. 🙂

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