When Dark is Light

When Dark is Light

👤Matt J. Simmons 🕔Nov 06, 2017

They arrive as shadows and move like poetry. By that, I mean they flow.  I’m already awake when they arrive, drifting black around the yard. They are a deeper shade of darkness. My eyes adjust. I lean on the windowsill, tired and awake, my forehead pressed against the cold glass. The little ones play, flickering around the yard. I think they know I’m here. My breath fogs a little patch on the pane and I shuffle to the right. The night is soft and maybe it’s my fatigue or unseen clouds moving or something else entirely, but the darkness seems alive somehow. It has a gentle movement, like the slow roll of waves that you feel when you’re in a boat with your eyes closed. 

I lean and watch these nighttime visitors drift, picking unseen objects up from the ground, toying with them. Plucking thoughts from the night air. Discarding them, bored. It goes on and on and I revel in it, but eventually tiredness overwhelms me and I crawl back into bed, leaving the shadows to their dark play.

The dark is mystery. It is the unknown. It can be comforting or terrifying, or both at the same time. I was a sensitive kid. I had a nightly mantra I repeated to my parents, requesting they leave the door “open a crack, with the hall light on”. That sliver of light from the bedroom door was like the rope at the bottom of a hole: a way out.

Now I crave the dark. It’s a blanket I wrap myself in, and disappear. In the summer, the early dawns and late, light nights crackle and fizz in my mind, like mental fireworks, their fuses lit by northern daylight. I struggle to sleep. But I have a method: I fabricate darkness. Every night, I fashion a blindfold from an old bandana and wear it around my neck like I’m in an old western. When the first blades of light shoot into my mind, I pull the makeshift blindfold over my eyes. And sleep seeps back in. 

Winter darkness is a welcome visitor. I slip into it every night, sigh, and sleep. Yes, the dark mornings are harder. But the warm light of a soft fire helps, the glow that blends into the black and takes the edge off the surrounding darkness.

I hear them outside later. It’s still dark. Little sounds mingling with my dreams. They tug at my consciousness until I’m awake again. I lift my head from the pillow and immediately see an orange glow that suffuses the dark room. This is no shadow visitor—this is much, much worse.


Rushing outside in my underwear, bare feet slipped into old, cold sneakers, I am suddenly face-to-face with the strangest thing: a beast of a blaze that is already consuming both my workshop and my studio. It grows exponentially, despite my ineffectual attempts with limp hose and panicked brain. Choking back lungfuls of smoke, I give in to the inevitability and helplessly watch the fire’s greedy consumption of the darkness.

Time passes, and shadows give way to sickly morning light, smoky and sad. It ends, finally. And cold rain falls. I’m alone, and a new darkness creeps in.

I am destined, this winter, to become a shadow myself, a slightly darker figure against the dark of the middle of the night. Look for me by the frozen lake, a baby wrapped inside my coat. I will be singing to it quietly, my breath ghostlike in the cold air. Silhouetted against the lightness of the ice and snow. I will cherish these moments as I’ve learned to cherish those dark times in my past. There is much to fear, but I am not afraid of the dark anymore.