If They Come in the Night by Marge Piercy
I am changing.
I don’t know when it happened. I was out walking the other day, my mind blank, my fingers worrying a thread that has unraveled at the waist of my jeans, and I felt it: that shifting. It was subtle, and I wasn’t paying attention, not really, but there it was. It made me falter, and people bumped and grunted and bruised and walked past me, and I had to stop. I stood there, my mouth open, not really seeing anything — I tried to think, what is this, it feels familiar somehow. And then it hit me: I think, after a long time, I actually feel that things are going to be okay. I mean, I’ve always said it, sure. You’ve probably read it a hundred times. But it’s one thing to say I’m fine and still find myself drinking at two in the morning, or to write I can do this and still wake up in the morning to find that I’ve been crying in my sleep. Some part of you knows that I’ve been lying to myself, and you’ve kept quiet because you’ve been there, too, I know it. I embraced my sadness because I’m not brave enough to be happy, although it’s the one thing I desire most in all the world. And to stand there and feel steady — the clarity of it, oh it took my breath away: somehow, the universe has answered some unnamed question I was struggling with for years.
I stood there with a foolish grin on my face, and was certain that somewhere inside my body, another piece of me has finally found its way back, like I have stepped out for a moment and now have pushed my way inside again, saying, What did I miss?
You must understand — it has been awhile since this has happened, and I have forgotten a lot of things. The truth is, we are capable of healing ourselves. It’s just that there is some measure of comfort in being wounded, the time around scars. In some ways it made me feel safe: I was hurt, this is the proof, and there’s no need for me to be naive again. I don’t have to go out there anymore, and what a relief! There’s no need for me to pretend that love is great, and that it will change my life, and so let us dispense with this burden and just sit in the dark where the unloved belong. I had forgotten, I suppose, that love can come from different places, and that the heart is strong, and that to love is to be foolish and vulnerable and mad, that there can be no other way but through.
I had forgotten that it did change my life, that it wasn’t only hurt that’s there. And this burning need that I have to love somebody and give everything — I had forgotten that I can also give it to myself. So I stood there, the crowd moving in waves, and my smile turned into a chuckle, until I was laughing, really laughing, telling myself, T., you fool, you glorious, little fool, and I was shaking my head and laughing and really, I couldn’t help myself. Somehow, I have become the heroine in my life without knowing it, and I wanted to do a little dance, and raise my arms and clap and clap and clap, just like what happens in the movies—
But I was I, so after a deep sigh I put one foot forward and the next, until I was walking, and walking, making my way home.
If They Come in the Night
Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a cold hard floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to
I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.
Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted light off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of morning
touching a face
I love. We all lose
everything. We lose
ourselves. We are lost.
Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.