“Beyond The Porch-Light of Language”
by Chet Raymo
"The title of this post is another phrase from the poet Pat Boran. A lovely image, evoking friends in rocking chairs sipping ice tea or gin-and-tonics on a drowsy summer night. Out there in the darkness lightnin' bugs flash their sleepy semaphores. Somewhere afar off heat lightnin' illuminates the horizon. Our language drifts into the dark. We have words too for stars, for black holes and quasars, for the cosmic microwave background radiation. Our words leak off the porch into the summer darkness, bringing some small part of the darkness into our circle of light. And so we sit and sip and talk, and our language eases back the darkness, hallows an interval, makes "a dwelling in the evening air, In which being there together is enough."
We sit and we sip and we are content to let the darkness embrace us. No, we are more than content. The darkness is a positive presence, a soft and fragrant backdrop for our conversations. Without the darkness there would be no lightnin' bugs, no heat lightnin', no stars. We rock and sip and the darkness enfolds us like a shawl.
There are a those who are less comfortable with the darkness. They want language to light up the darkness to the farthest horizon, to the beginning and end of space and time, turn night to day. They shout into the dark- "God," "Father," "Person," "Friend." The miracle of language becomes the language of miracles. "I am the Light of the World, I expel the dark."
Well, fair enough. But here on the porch, in our circle of friendship and faint light, we rock and sip and talk. And the lightnin' bugs flash, and the stars come on one by one, and now and then, afar off, the horizon shimmers with a soundless light. And we talk, with measured voices. And our words drift off into the darkness. And sometimes they never come back.”