Jul/Aug 2012 Salon

The First Day

by Stanley Jenkins

The Dogs of Morning Barking

Your eyes snap wide open for an instant, and you spend the rest of your life pushing stones uphill trying to get those lids to just let the light in. And then you do your time in Rikers, on a nickel's worth of blinding flashes that emerge beneath heavy shades, when the window is open and the wind is blowing. And what the hell are you doing sleeping in broad daylight in the first place?

The light shines and is not overcome by the darkness.

O but the darkness! It is so sweet, my friends, it is so sweet. To sleep!

To sleep there must be a light to darkness—a light that only shines in its being extinguished. Something holds on.

Even dogs dream.

Night or day. Awake or asleep. The eyes wide open shine in the dark and in the light. Every saint a sinner and every criminal a neighbor.

O my tyger! O my lamb! The seer behind the seeing.

Every morning and every surrender to the reign of terror, the reign of terror of waking, of waking to every moment of rest and every morning of relinquishing and cowboying up; for each and every moment, I always emerge to the sounds of dogs barking and the return of the great beast that shadows my every move.

Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.

It is relentless.

For all my blindness, I am always seen.

And always seeing.



I dreamed I was in the darkness before there was light. And in the dream I understood that this was impossible because there is no darkness before there was light—and so, in the dream, had to understand that this darkness I dreamed I was in before the light was nothing but a reflection of what it felt like to be in the dark and far from the light, although it was strangely peaceful to be in the darkness before there was light, and know that it was a lie—as if perhaps the dream itself were pointing to what lay beyond itself.

And that's what struck me: that the dream meant to point to its own limitations, that the dream meant to acknowledge its own inadequacies to make present what remained absent in it's very existence. And the fact that in the dream I knew that I was dreaming, and that what I was dreaming of wasn't what the dream was making present, but was nonetheless being made painfully aware of in its absence... Made me wake up.

And there was light, and there was darkness, and it was good.

The first day.

Born again.


Jean Cocteau

There is a harrowing passage in Jean Cocteau's "Diary of an Opium Addict" in which he describes the pain of withdrawal and healing. It's been years since I read it, but one line echoes: "The tree must suffer the rising of the sap in the spring."

He's an addict. He mourns the healing. The returning of vitality, of life.

It hurts.

This healing he describes, it's harrowing, but it's also indulgent. It gives him a license to bask just one more time in the broken promise, in the bejeweled and benighted promise. Of the poppy.

It hurts.

At once, everything is revealed. Revealed in suffering: The love. The hunger. The gratitude. And the secret "no" that empowers grown men, far from home, to wake up from the dream of being swine—and become men.

And always at the same time, the deep debt all men owe to the dream. That, too.

We dream in the darkness, but it is only for the lack of light. And who is to say that our dreams are other than the light overcoming darkness—even as they always fall short?

Failed attempts at being who we are.

It hurts. It hurts so good.

And the light that shines in the darkness.

It's enough to give a man pause.

And to betray his dark lover.



I am under strict orders not to tell you my joy. I do not have clearance. But I am impatient in time. Aware that it is not unlimited.

I am not among the rebel angels. Although I have been charged with being for the party of Satan, without knowing it.

Let's just get down to brass tacks. If I could with impunity, without the yoke of responsibility. If I could. If I could.

I would tear this old building down.

And in doing so, sell my joy.

What happens to freedom when a man learns to love his chains?

But my joy is bigger than that. Bigger than my life. Bigger than my chains.

My joy—despite my every inclination—is not for sale.

I am either being enlightened or am enchanted. Either way, in joy a man can't hear himself think for the barking of the dogs of morning. He just keeps walking.

He just keeps waking up.


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