Sunday, January 26, 2014

All Through The Night

My Lithuanian grandmother, or so I was told, used to malaprop the lullaby   --

sleep my child
and piece o' candy
all through the night

What sweetens these long, cold, winter nights ? What peace attends us as we sleep ?  Dreams, like lozenges that dissolve and vanish; oblivion that gives way to yet another pre-dawn morning with its stiffened joints and crowding exigencies. The floorboards are cold and the mouth tastes foul --

but there will be coffee and toast and a furnace that obliges, and these are very great and very rare blessings, completely undeserved. The morning news will further highlight them as reproach. Heartbreak, gratitude, paralysis -- breakfast condiments slapped down on the table by a gum-smacking waitress who calls me honey but who doesn't mean it.

And on it goes: winter, police procedurals, too much coffee, sorrow and loss staring up at one like leaves frozen in ice. The day is one long trajectory toward that exquisite moment when the piles of blankets open, and the feet search the icy sheets for the pocket of warmth left by the cat. Soon body heat will fill the hermit's cave. In the pillow-propped book the gloomy inspector -- a tormented loner with a past -- surveys the scene of the crime, taking in everything, the least nuance -- and the reader, his semblable, his overseer, falls asleep --

-- and joins him in the back alleyways of a northern city (where it is always night and snowing) to ask the wrong and unanswerable question --

whodunit ?

It's all one big crime scene, I mutter as we sift through a pile of rags and bottles behind the diner -- looking for what ? The murder weapon was most certainly the ketchup bottle, wiped clean of prints; the manner of death, a blow to the skull from behind; the short order cook had an iron-clad alibi and the victim had countless enemies, each with a plausible motive. The wad of chewing gum stuck to her forehead seemed deliberate, but confounding.

I unwrapped a piece of candy, a peppermint, utilitarian as toothpaste. Everything and nothing was a clue. The Commissioner stood at the mouth of the alleyway in his greatcoat watching us work. He was speaking -- but traffic and wind swallowed his words --

All authority has been given to me --  obey everything I have commanded you -- to the very end of the age -- 

There was no doubting that: the very end of the age. The moment of revelation, of utter clarity, of beatific vision

when you find the blood- and ketchup- spattered sweater under your bed and you realize that the crime, and with it each and every crime since the beginning of time has been solved. All that remains for you is the perp walk and the plea for mercy --

-- in the form of the pillow's cooling drool, the book fallen shut upon the nose, the husband preparing for bed, the cat settled in for the night upon the left foot.

Well, winter does end, I suppose. A new batch of weeds is preparing itself in the earth, and my camera rests patiently on the floor of my study. Does it also dream ?

It has seen a lot. It has seen everything. It is as jaded a detective as me, and yet remains willing (for the time being) to catch the next crime, winter spring summer or fall, and proceed to the scene, blue light flashing, to scour it for clues.

And, nights, dreams flicker across its sensor -- strangulation, amputation,

rigor mortis and mold specks, a cavalcade of forensics, each image more disturbing and more beautiful than the next --

as it sings to itself a lullaby -- cradles that rock and fall -- in a world of no peace, no candy

and where it is always night and always, always snowing.