Andrea Cohen, "Night"

Andrea Cohen's "Night" sketches the mystery of night so well that I find myself lost in it.

Andrea Cohen, "Night"

Two Days Into Our Post-Roe World

One thing that should be at the forefront of any discussion about the State of the Union is the violence being unleashed on protestors. Here's journalist @TinaDesireeBerg being thrown to the ground by the LAPD:

The very first day of protests also featured using the Arizona Capitol building as elevation in order to fire tear gas into a crowd:

In case it is not clear to you yet just how misogynistic and violent this nation is—this nation which gives people like Ken Paxton power over wombs—allow me to introduce you to a candidate for the Senate of the State of Rhode Island:

I am continually looking for examples of state violence against protestors on Twitter, and it is easier to find them than examples of the English alphabet. This is make-or-break time for the United States. The rest of the world has taken note.

One other set of tweets that have gotten attention, but nowhere near the attention they should have:

This isn't just @AOC saying stuff. One thing a Great Books education throws at you is example after example of how so-called "great" leaders led. Speeches by Lincoln and Churchill, Caesar and Pericles, all that stuff. What I learned, and what experience keeps confirming, is that great leaders are extremely specific in times of crisis. The Emancipation Proclamation established a specific policy; Churchill after Dunkirk listed what armed forces the British have on hand. They gave the people they served the best possible chance to achieve their ends. A lack of specifics not only entails being wobbly on the means, but fails to communicate what the ends actually are. A lot of Democrats feel "Vote Blue, No Matter Who" is a betrayal, and who can blame them when their leadership gave dollars and held rallies for a nakedly corrupt anti-abortion candidate?

So yeah. What AOC is asking for is a big deal. You can say it is a product of standard organizer training. As she has said in a very famous clip: you tell people who you are, what you want them to do, and what you're going to do for them, not pay for glossy marketing materials. But in this environment, asking leadership to take seriously how things get done is a radical move. It seems, in point of fact, that is true for most real leaders.

Andrea Cohen, "Night"

Andrea Cohen's "Night" sketches the mystery of night so well that I find myself lost in it. "Someone was talking / quietly of lanterns" leaves me in the dark, no lanterns to be found, only whispers of them. How could this possibly be "loud enough / to light my way"? A poetics of personal space is operative, wherein the lyric stretches toward absorbing but complex themes. Cohen's poem calls to mind moments in Dickinson's corpus which dwell on sexuality and self-discovery. However, it also converses with work more forthright about the nature of inspiration. The scope of these combined concerns is enormous, but stems from reflection upon how we even know of anything in our space.

Night (from
Andrea Cohen

Someone was talking
quietly of lanterns—

but loud enough
to light my way.

"Night" can be read as slyly sexual. "Someone" talked "quietly" about a gentle fire, one giving just enough light to navigate darkness. Something good was had, as the whispers were "loud" in their own way. In comparison, Dickinson's "Wild Nights" is not subtle at all:

Wild nights - Wild nights! (249)
Emily Dickinson

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

Dickinson is through with planning. She's "[d]one with the Compass — / Done with the Chart!" She knows how she feels, and if someone cooperates, the result is "luxury" together. The ecstatic tone of "Wild Nights" heightens the plea of the poem, a plea with overtones of carpe diem. Whomever it is addressed to is not there. Perhaps they will never be there. Even one night may be asking too much.

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Cohen's "Night" stands at a distance from "Wild Nights." Someone's quiet talk did guide Cohen, and this could be sexual, but not necessarily so. Her poem stands between "Wild Nights" and an oft-quoted line from Dickinson's letters, "I am out with lanterns, looking for myself." As Austin Kleon notes, the original context of this line is about moving house and losing one's material belongings—shoes, hats, etc. Still, moving almost always involves stumbling upon objects you've forgotten about, reminders of experiences as intense as past relationships or profound as entirely different vocations. —To this end: a few people have told me that it will be "easy" for me to move from Dallas, as I have "nothing." I recently found a folder filled with letters and drawings from friends and lovers. In it is my most prized possession: a birthday card from students who threw me a small party during class. —

In short, your literal self is on full display during a move. You can be out there, looking for that part you want to rediscover, knowing so much is at stake despite it being nearly forgotten before.


The Muse, too, looms large in "Night." Someone spoke quietly of lights, and this alone guides. The remoteness of "Someone" reminds me of how, even when I tell my own story, it is not identical with me. As if I'm really telling another's story, that of one I don't know but who spoke to me exclusively.

If we use the language of personal space, it is like selfhood entails a space for a being of another world. A shadow, ghost, or divinity who inspires a tale. How to address this being? Robert Bly's "The Moon" details his approach:

The Moon (from Poetry 180)
Robert Bly

After writing poems all day,
I go off to see the moon in the pines.
Far in the woods I sit down against a pine.
The moon has her porches turned to face the light,
But the deep part of her house is in the darkness.

Bly encounters the moon as a combination of person and place. "The moon has her porches turned to face the light," he says, presenting her not only as a house but also the occupant, who sits on the porch "to face the light." This moon, this Muse, keeps "the deep part of her house... in the darkness," mirroring Bly himself. Two writers, each residing on giant rocks, facing and witnessing each other across space.

That moment of self-recognition through another is earned. Bly testifies to a journey in the dark much like Cohen's. "I go off to see the moon in the pines. / Far in the woods I sit down against a pine." The mystery here is not how "quietly" can be "loud enough," but how a dark pine forest can be navigated. What is decisive is the view one pine affords of the moon. I imagine a lot of stumbling until that specific pine, illuminated by moonlight, was reached.

On that note, both "Night" and "The Moon" gloss over the sheer difficulty of saying anything. They indulge a lack of volume and visibility as viable paths. Soft speech is heard; darkness leads to light. Perhaps these are blessings of the Muse. However, I think many of us can recall times where we were told, say, that we were loved, and we did not know what to say, much less do.


Ultimately, "Night" has a fascinating theme at its core. —Well, one half of a pair of themes.— The theme I do not believe it touches is that of knowing something abstractly, having no experience of it, and being correct, aware, and useful because of the knowledge alone. This always feels surprising to me when it happens, though by definition this is knowledge.

What "Night" develops is how seeking knowledge is fundamentally emotional and mystical. Anything, it seems, but rational. The process, somehow, informs you and your resolve. Quiet talk of lanterns—words that only suggest—lead to light. No words are needed when you know where you are. The various threads concerning personal space, one sexual, another individual, still another creative, revolve around this question: where, exactly, am I?