Author Helen Carey

Poems by Helen Carey

BARKALOW

The window with the light left on
inside gets mistaken for the moon
when driving by quickly, peripheral
vision on the way
back home. Clever trick, shining,
hiding dust storm forms surrounding
it, swallowing whole hallowed fields
into the dried-up ground. Living rooms
and restlessly
burning lamps, bright things
left on in spite of night, spilling over half-
shuffled decks and soaking up half-
opened eyes fooled by well-played bluffs
on the drive home,
ending finally
with the winning hand: a stranded
jingle shell island, harbored in
by frayed edges, burned blue-
stained paper, urging me
to turn the page.

 

CUL-DE-SAC

The pull from the stars, the eternal elemental
woven tension left
unsnapped and unbroken
found us by the end of night, outside, covered
and draped over with the winding weaving
paths of a million empires and negative suns
piled upon one another like streamers stretched across
an empty room,        tense and taut
in the space between, that familiar magnetic hold.

On the other side of the porch all the empty
chairs laid out in a patchwork constellation, phantom
whims of the day’s blinding conversations, consolations
and cocktails, still
sitting in all the shapes of summer’s socialization
blueprints etched in cement.

Swooping black bats overhead and at the end
of the street in front of a parking lot, someone
put out the garbage, old red elementary school chair,
no blueprint,
just left there facing the flat blank house across from it.

We took it and set it down the middle of the cul-de-sac,
dead end circle mirroring swirls
of torn clouds overhead, explosive Van Gogh halos
tightening in the watery sky moving
steadily
away from us
as we sat down in the old red chair and waited.

The Cold Lore

My fascination with Antarctica always struck me as a strange, random blip of an interest—something that I was drawn to for no apparent reason. I viewed it as a divergent fascination, separated from my other passions and pastimes — an isolated hobby of sorts that didn’t necessarily fit into the rest of my life; or, if I was feeling a bit new-agey, perhaps an inkling of a past, more adventurous life. Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s journals kept me up nights, a map of the barren white continent has remained taped to my wall for years now, and every few months I inevitably end up on various websites, researching future employment possibilities down South—real South.

DECONSTRUCTING FACEBOOK

We are a restless species—a species restlessly navigating new technology.

LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY

The light seeping in through the blinds, the slam of car doors sounding the start of the workday, and the soft patter of my housemates’ drowsy, dragging footsteps downstairs signify the end of my nights.

Nighttime lends itself to a certain quiet, a certain clearness that the day just doesn’t have for me. While others are happy to crawl into a cozy bed at an hour close to midnight and far from dawn, I am content and revitalized by the prospect of the long stretch of time ahead. I’ve always attributed these vampiric tendencies to some innate interest in the under-working of a city and its inhabitants, a fascination with the pun-ridden “darker side of things.” (This has been my excuse for years, anyway, whenever someone sees me stumble out of bed just as the sun is going down.) The isolation that I often find at night is also just more conducive for work—it’s a lot easier to hunker down and write an essay or a story when no one is awake to provide me with a distraction that I would undoubtedly welcome more often than not. But still, it is disconcerting at times to realize that everyone else is in my house is waking up as I’m trying to get to sleep, and it’s often frustrat­ing that everyone is going to sleep when I’m done with my obligations and raring to go.

I look to other creative minds for consolation; Karl Marx, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kafka all worked during the night. Some­times I think of these people as the clock ticks away towards morning and wonder if they felt the same way, if they needed the backdrop of darkness to illuminate their work, if they fished something out of that dense expanse of night and twisted and chiseled it into some­thing for themselves. There are no pretenses once the sun goes down; the bright, orderly appearance of the day is gone.

Night owl Frank Loesser, the American songwriter best known for his scores to Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, simply and eloquently captures a certain feeling that all night-dwellers can relate to:

My time of day is the dark time

A couple of deals before dawn

When the street belongs to the cop

And the janitor with the mop

And the grocery clerks are all gone.

The nighttime is an intimate setting; it is occupied by few, and few want to regularly occupy it. Loesser conveys the tone of this sparsely populated time of night and describes a reclaiming of sorts. Whether by choice or by neces­sity, the night owls are taking their share of the world around them; part of the 24-hour cycle is theirs, too. This “dark time” is Loesser’s time of day.

Perhaps this feeling of simultaneous singularity—of being lone and inde­pendent against the vastness of the night along with the unity of being in the company of the few others who occupy the day’s darker side—is what makes the night so appealing, especially for artists. This duality parallels the artist’s mindset; the ultimate goal of any creative thinker is to be a unique individual (and distinct from the rest of the artsy hipsters). Yet at the same time, artists need a sense of community, a feeling of common purpose and connection with like-minded people. Achieving a balance between these two sentiments is difficult, but the night allows some momentary harmony.

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks illustrates this balance. Hopper depicts three customers and a worker in a late-night diner. It is an evocative piece, one that conjures up a lot of feelings at once. The bright, fluorescent-lit interior of the diner appears as a haven, a beacon in the dark, sleeping street surround­ing it. The customers, the last remnants of the city’s unsleeping world, have gathered here and are brought together by their common seclusion. They are at once isolated and united.

But this concept of the night as an artistic equilibrium is not just a specula­tion; science also comes into play. Recent studies have shown that night owls are simply just more likely to be creative thinkers. Although a full explana­tion has yet to be formulated, researchers say that this could be the result of an adaptation to living outside the norm. In short, it may not always be the creative mentality that causes an inclination towards nighttime. In fact, the inclination towards nighttime might be what causes a creative mentality. “Be­ing in a situation which diverges from conventional habit—nocturnal types often experience this situation—may encourage the development of a non-conventional spirit and of the ability to find alternative and original solutions,” wrote psychologists Marina Giampietro and G.M. Cavallera in their February 2007 study, “Morning and Evening Types and Creative Thinking.” (This can be found in the psychology journal, Personality and Individual Differences.)

Hans Van Dongen, an associate research pro­fessor at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University, has also contributed important findings towards the study of biology-based sleep preferences. He and his colleagues discovered that a small group of brain cells (suprachiasmatic nuclei, for any biopsychology students), sends sig­nals to the body that synchronize our sleeping patterns with the time of day. For “evening types, their “biological clock” is essentially set two hours later, and for “morning types,” two hours behind. This internal clock may be partially determined by genetics.

The science of sleep is intriguing, no doubt, and also provides a legitimate-sounding excuse for a lot of us late-risers, but for graveyard shift workers, this research may be meaningless. Although we may not associate the waitress taking our bleary order at 3 a.m. with the typical idea of a nighthawk—the test-cramming college kid, the drunk, or the starving artist painting into the wee small hours—she is more immersed in the undertow of society, that un­conventional society of the night, than any of us. The number of graveyard shift workers has been steadily increasing over the years. While the night shift was originally reserved for security guards, bakers, factory workers, etc., it has now come to include a wider array of positions, like computer programmers, technical support workers, and health care workers.

To work nights is to inhabit another world entirely—a Bizarro World, the day turned upside-down. Tracy Niece may be a familiar face to many of you; she works nights at Parkside Diner, usually from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and sometimes 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Niece has a full head of blonde hair and such a droll, relaxed way of talking that she may first strike you as aloof. You soon realize, however, that her manner has no edge to it; she is just unaffected.

“[Working the night shift] is hard to get used to at first,” Niece said, “and then when you get home you don’t wanna sleep.” Niece said that her schedule is completely turned around, but she must adjust on her days off. Niece has an eight-year son, which makes napping impossible. “Sometimes you stay up for days,” she said. Niece spoke about the people who came in during the night—as expected, a lot of drunk and high people stumble into the diner for a post-party snack. She was lighthearted as she related this, suggesting that they were easy targets for selling pricier menu items. “Yeah, you want some pork chops?” she laughed.

Other night workers also frequent the establishment—doctors, correction of­ficers, nurses, etc. One is likely to encounter an eclectic mix of people going to Parkside late at night; the clientele is a diverse bunch, spanning a wide range of ages, races, and demeanors. And the closer one gets to dawn, the more likely one is to encounter an older crowd, presumably the retired, settling down for breakfast. It is a modern day Nighthawks, a sundry crowd of drunks, insomniacs, and early-risers, all brought together for one reason or another at a small, well-lit diner in Trenton. The romantic ideal of the night owl is hard to shake, but Niece provides us with a more sobering perspective. When asked if she had any last comments, she simply replied, “Don’t work the graveyard shift.”

The hours after midnight are both expansive in their possibilities and limited in their practicality. For some, they signify neither, and represent only a neces­sity of living—the graveyard shift is not a popular one, and most people take night shifts due to the lack of competition and better chances of employment.

I write this now as the sun is rising. Pulling back the blinds, I see neighbors heading to work, a garbage truck rumbling down the street, and birds lighting on the telephone wire. It’s a new day, and I’m not even done with the old one yet. Staying awake through the night allows for a strange mixture of observa­tions—you see the day, you see the night, you see the night give way to day again; the whole metaphor-ridden cycle of the world is before you. Van Gogh once said, “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” Closing my blinds again against the glare of the early-morning sun and crawling into bed, I have to agree.

WHISTLE (WHILE YOU WEB BROWSE)

“You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Lauren Bacall crooned this to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not in 1944, and although the same instructions would likely still apply, perhaps now no one would be listening to them. The act of whistling doesn’t seem to have aged as well as the film. In fact, whistling seems to have all but disappeared from modern society, particularly among our generation.

whistle cartoon