961: Nocturne

961: Nocturne

961: Nocturne


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

In young adulthood, long before children, jobs, and home ownership, my evenings felt like a blank canvas of cultural and spiritual possibility. During the day I followed and delivered on my expectant routines; I went to work. I completed tasks. I paid rent and utilities. I might even have checked in on family. But then came the hours for which spontaneity and exploration ruled. I went to dance clubs, jazz concerts, art galleries, independent films, bookstore readings, coffeehouses, underground hip-hop battles. I made new friendships and deepened old ones. 

I catered to my senses. I was omnivorous. I ate cuisines new to my palate at restaurants suggested by friends. After a modern dance concert or performance art show, my body was full of the sweetness of Korean kimchi and Spanish paellas and the fire of Indian vindaloos and Szechuan hot pots. I wandered with no sense of destination. There was no planning or scheduling, just whatever the city I was in had to offer me at that moment. It was communion with the world.  

I lived by the phrase “on a whim.” I enjoyed walking to the next adventure down alleys where shadows ruled, where car lights and street lamps did not reach. When I passed through a dark door and music entered inside my chest as a bass-thump, all the better. The experience was like being in the throes of research, feeling myself grow from experiences that cracked me into a wholeness in which there was no separation of body and mind. Just the music of living. Desire and openness seemed essential and I felt I could go on in this state. 

I felt a joyous connection to all around me, artists and writers and musicians, thinkers and believers, both living and departed, alive in their pursuit of beauty and knowledge. I was starving and knew it. On South Street, one bookstore stayed open till midnight. Many nights I closed it down, sitting in a corner reading a paperback, a beer in my pocket or a cup of coffee in my hand. At some point, I knew I needed to make art, to move to celebrating the world’s loveliness. I was perpetually hungry to do so.

Today’s poem carries that same energy of self-discovery, inevitable change, and an extravagance of living.

by Oliver Baez Bendorf

I freefall to evening. 
Moon that unfurls like a simple mariposa
Marbled & flamboyant seed.
I felt so much pressure to be 
Abundant. I plead for something
In green fields extravagant. What
Temples trace mosquitos of this embrace? Sentient filaments, & every strand
Astonished by a canopy
Of decomposing craft, even the cuir lattice. When I want
To cry another noche like a fringe star, I 
Pool amorphous beasts
Back into organs. Some temples
Don’t feel sinister: “God 
Is Change.” Me at seventeen
Stitching my wet way
Upstream, arroyo, another
Wrinkle in the gold
Mine. At dawn the veil
Even then I kept
Busy with all this traffic  .  .  .
That’s why I wander like this.

"Nocturne" by Oliver Baez Bendorf. Originally published in Denver Quarterly. Used by permission of the poet.