Nights on Planet Earth

By Campbell McGrath b. 1962 Campbell McGrath Read the Q & A

Heaven was originally precisely that: the starry sky, dating back to the earliest Egyptian texts, which include magic spells that enable the soul to be sewn in the body of the great mother, Nut, literally "night," like the seed of a plant, which is also a jewel and a star. The Greek Elysian fields derive from the same celestial topography: the Egyptian "Field of Rushes," the eastern stars at dawn where the soul goes to be purified. That there is another, mirror world, a world of light, and that this world is simply the sky—and a step further, the breath of the sky, the weather, the very air—is a formative belief of great antiquity that has continued to the present day with the godhead becoming brightness itself: dios/theos (Greek); deus/divine/diana (Latin); devas (Sanskrit); daha (Arabic); day (English).
—Susan Brind Morrow, Wolves and Honey

1

Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards,
click of pearls upon a polished nightstand
soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music
distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
of the self and the soul in the darkness
chanting to the ecstatic chance of existence.
Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
solid the water and liquid the light. How strange
that they arrive at all, nights on planet earth.

2

Sometimes, not often but repeatedly, the past invades my dreams in the form of a familiar neighborhood I can no longer locate,
a warren of streets lined with dark cafés and unforgettable bars, a place where I can sing by heart every song on every jukebox,
a city that feels the way the skin of an octopus looks pulse-changing from color to color, laminar and fluid and electric,
a city of shadow-draped churches, of busses on dim avenues, or riverlights, or canyonlands, but always a city, and wonderful, and lost.
Sometimes it resembles Amsterdam, students from the ballet school like fanciful gazelles shooting pool in pink tights and soft, shapeless sweaters,
or Madrid at 4AM, arguing the 18th Brumaire with angry Marxists, or Manhattan when the snowfall crowns every trash-can king of its Bowery stoop,
or Chicago, or Dublin, or some ideal city of the imagination, as in a movie you can neither remember entirely nor completely forget,
barracuda-faced men drinking sake like yakuza in a Harukami novel, women sipping champagne or arrack, the rattle of beaded curtains in the back,
the necklaces of Christmas lights reflected in raindrops on windows, the taste of peanuts and their shells crushed to powder underfoot,
always real, always elusive, always a city, and wonderful, and lost. All night I wander alone, searching in vain for the irretrievable.

3

In the night I will drink from a cup of ashes and yellow paint.
In the night I will gossip with the clouds and grow strong.
In the night I will cross rooftops to watch the sea tremble in a dream.
In the night I will assemble my army of golden carpenter ants.
In the night I will walk the towpath among satellites and cosmic dust.
In the night I will cry to the roots of potted plants in empty offices.
In the night I will gather the feathers of pigeons in a honey jar.
In the night I will become an infant before your flag.

Source: Poetry (March 2008).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2008
 Campbell  McGrath

Biography

Born in Chicago to Irish-Catholic parents, McGrath earned his BA from the University of Chicago and MFA from Columbia University. Influenced by Walt Whitman, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, and Rainer Maria Rilke, McGrath writes predominantly free-verse, long-lined, documentary poems deeply engaged with American popular culture and commerce. A master of the long poem, he has also written many prose poems as well as shorter lyrics.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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