BY CHERYL DUMESNIL
All throughout the month of October, I was looking for it: the way autumn’s golden sunlight gilds everything from the morning dew on blades of grass, to the chain link fence around the elementary school, to the brown leaves falling out of the neighbor’s oak tree, riding the breeze like a flock of otherworldly butterflies.
Unfailingly, each year, this gold light arrives, lifting whatever caul has spread itself over my creativity, whatever veil has grayed my mood, putting me totally in love with the world I live in. In this autumn light, as in poetry, even the ugly stuff somehow reveals its hidden beauty. And though I write poems all year round, nothing charges up the urge to make metaphor, to claw through the past looking for gems, to rivet together a group of seemingly disparate images, to build a whole world out of words, like that autumn light does.
Unfailingly, each year, I walk through autumn feeling blessed — this is, after all, the season of my children’s births, the season of harvest, of giving thanks, of flame-bright endings that drag in their wake the exquisite new beginnings.
Unfailingly, each year, this gold light turns me into a relentless appreciator, calling out to anyone who will listen — the clerk in the grocery store, the parent waiting beside me on the playground for our kids to be released from school, the stranger walking past my house as I clean up the Halloween decorations: “Will you look at this light?”
But this year, October seemed different somehow. As the days grew shorter and my mornings began in darkness, I sipped my coffee, ate my toast, scuttled the kids through their getting ready for school routines, all the while stealing glances at the window. As we rode our bikes to school, the sun yet to peek over the horizon, I felt myself begging: Please, gold today. Please, the gold.
No gold. No light that paints the world in new textures, revealing extra dimensions both outside and within. Just the regular, dusty silver that arrived in summer and seemed hell bent on overstaying its welcome. Each morning, I felt like Dorothy, waking after the tornado to find Glinda, the yellow brick road, the ruby slippers all rendered in the same flat grays as Kansas.
Where the hell was my light?
I sat at my writing desk, staring out the window into my front yard where autumn once played a song I transcribed onto my computer screen, “In Praise of Falling,” which became the title poem for my first book of poetry. I sat at my writing desk, remembering how last autumn’s light spawned an “Ode to October” that seemed to channel effortlessly through my body onto the page as I scribbled it down, in my car, in a grocery store parking lot. I sat at my writing desk, wondering what had happened to my autumn inspiration? Wondering if something was wrong inside of me? Maybe the light was out there, but I couldn’t see it? Maybe this season was a wash?
Then this morning I opened my eyes at 5:30, starkly awake, a side effect of the weekend’s fall back from daylight savings time to standard time. Already the sky outside our uncovered window was riding its spectrum from black to light gray. But I didn’t notice that yet. My mind was hooked on thoughts about tomorrow’s election. Hooked on the images I’d seen of the hours-long voting lines in Ohio and Florida. Please stay, I silently begged the voters. Cast your vote. We need you. Hooked on the ever shifting blues and reds on Huffington Post’s electoral vote map. Hooked on the ifs and maybes held in the hearts of every lesbian and gay want-to-be bride and groom in Minnesota, Maine, Washington, and Maryland. Hooked on the nest of bees buzzing in my own belly when I imagined watching the election results tomorrow night with my wife and kids. Then, finally, hooked on the only thing I know how to do when fear starts its dance in my psyche: breathe.
So breathe I did, until the bees released their buzzing. And breathe I did, until I felt the calm settle in. And breathe I did, until I remembered that what I must focus on right now is not a dreaded future, not even a hopeful visualization of a second Obama inauguration or a first ballot-box win for marriage equality, but this moment. Right here. Right now.
And guess what showed up in that moment, rising over the eastern hills, spilling across my valley? Welcome, gold light of autumn. Thank you for arriving just in time to remind me that no matter what happens at the polls tomorrow, I will always find beauty. This is the artist’s booby prize, a life-sustaining truth: no matter what junk life piles on my doorstep, I can always use it to make poetry. And this is a note to my post-election self: no matter what you are feeling right now, step outside, absorb that light, and start writing.
Poet, writer, activist, and educator, Cheryl Dumesnil is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood.” She spends her free time jumping on a trampoline and telling potty jokes, because the sound of her kids’ laughter makes her really, really happy.