Mother Night

Mother Night
by Theodora Goss

Last night I went to the house of my mother, Night.
Her house has many doors, some large, some smaller
than a mouse hole. You are welcome at all of them.
Her house has many windows. They shine like stars
in the darkness, and on top of the highest tower
is the moon, like a weathervane.

I knocked and was invited into her parlor.
She asked me what was wrong, although of course,
as usual, she knew without my having to tell her.
“You’re tired,” she said. “So very tired, my dear.”
I simply nodded in answer.
It was true, I had been tired and sick with longing
for things I could not have: a cloak of darkness,
a library of answers, an elixir
that takes away all pain, a talking raven
to be my boon companion.

“You know the rules,” she said, pointing at the wall
where these words were written in calligraphy:
You can have anything you already have,
You can be anything you already are.
“How can I have what I don’t have?” I asked her.
“How can I be what I am not yet?” She simply
smiled and shook her head.

“Might as well say you cannot dream until
you are asleep, or cannot dance until
the music has started playing, when you know,
it is the dream that draws your eyelids down,
the dance that summons the tune. Are you a child,
to think clocks only run forward?”

I felt like an idiot, as when I was her student
and bungled every lesson with common sense
when it was uncommon sense her teaching called for.
I sat on the parlor sofa, crying in frustration
while she stroked my hair and poured me a cup of tea,
served with her usual mixture
of metaphysics and sympathy.
Why had I come, after all? I was not certain.

“Now think, my dear,” she said, “or rather, don’t.
I seem to remember thinking never got you
anywhere but Confusion.” She was right, of course:
in school that was my regular destination.
I leaned back against a cushion and sipped my tea,
pondering the nature of reality, which resembles
a ball of string tangled by a kitten.

“I’ll weave myself a cloak of darkness,” I said,
finally. “For the thread,
I’ll unravel my own shadow. The library,
I already have; I just need to catalog
the volumes I own correctly.” “And the elixir?”
she asked. Her eyes were shining, as they do
when a student of hers is being unusually clever.
“Doesn’t exist,” I said, “because pain itself
is the elixir of life. Without it, we may
as well be dead.” I didn’t like that answer.
But after all, we never get everything
we want, not even at Christmas.
“As for the raven, I believe one will come
to me when I’m wise enough for it to talk to.
You know they’re most particular.”

“You’re wiser than you were already,” she answered,
patting my head, which was a bit patronizing,
but I didn’t mind it, from her.
“You’re wrong about the elixir. I’ll tell you the secret
of dealing with pain, which is poetry.
It never gets into every nook and cranny;
nevertheless, I think you should write it more often.
As for the raven, I may have one around here
that I can lend until you find your own.”

She sent me home with some gingerbread and a bird,
rusty black, eyeing me with suspicion.
Now, it sits in the library, perched on a stack
of books I’m trying to get in the right order
so I can find an answer — to anything, really.
She was right about the poetry.
And I’m weaving my cloak of darkness. Mother Night
isn’t the easiest teacher, but her advice
is generally to be relied on.

(The image is Night Looking Upon Sleep Her Beloved Child by Simeon Solomon.)

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