Night in Day
Text by Leon Wing
Poem by Joseph Stroud
Night in Day
The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light's great
triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun--
we break open the watermelon and spit out
black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.
Here, in the East, now, it’s humidity, at times scorching heat, then unexpected heavy rain, even when the sun has been shining brightly. This month, in the west, it was the summer solstice, particularly on the 21st, when Americans see the sun at the northernmost point, when it is the furthest from the equator.
Like our unwavering light in our East, the West’s summer solstice is “the day of light’s great/triumph”. This is the triumph of standing at the tallest reaches of the sky. In this poem there is a battle of ascendancy from “night”, which doesn’t want to surrender to “light”.
The direct oppositeness – and opposition - of each of light’s and night’s stances is reflected in the first two words of lines one and two. The run-on at “over”, in the first line, has the OH sound. The caesura, or pause, in the second line, between the full-stop and “So”, marks the repeat of this sound. Another punctuation, the colon, helps point to another repeat of the sound, in “crows”, which end-points, decidedly with a full-stop.
“Night” is personalised – or rather, de-personalised – by calling “night” “it”. “it” repeats in “itself”, where “itself” is repeated. “Night”’s vowels are short i's. Yes, even “light” has the same kind. But that’s because they are direct opposites, linked by their similar rhyme, and, also, “night” insinuates itself into “light”. Look at the i's buried in “obsidian”, and at how “night”’s dark colours are inherent in obisidian and crows. The connection of lava in obsidian suggests the heat and burning of Hell, and crows can be a symbol of darkness, when they sometimes eat carrion, the dead.
In the end, “light” is winning, with the 3rd last line repeating the U sound of “sun” in “triumph”, “sunflowers”, “guzzle” and “sun”. The dash at the end of this line mimics the “we”s dash to “guzzle” at the burst and released “watermelon”, which has benefited from “light”, and remove the dark bits in it, the “black seeds”. “we” “spit” these into the “grass”, which repeats the A sound of “trap”, so that it is finally “night” that is trapped (“night glistening”) inside “grass”, which is green and above the ground, like “watermelon”.
Joseph Stroud is awarded the Witter Bynner Fellowship of the Library of Congress and the Pushcart Prize for his poetry. He has published In the Sleep of Rivers, Signatures, Below Cold Mountain, Country of Light and Of This World: New And Selected Poems.