In the Night Still Dark

by Jim Zola
The Waters
Honorable Mention, January 2012
Judged by John Timpane

The leaves have drawn out their dying.
Just as I let myself linger.

I’m the grumpy General,
barking orders about gloves and hats.

Putting on a sock,
my son forgets what world he’s in.

I can’t forget. I keep
notes in my pockets.

The snowy owl peers down
the sweetgum branch,

a license plate reads soon.
Later, after the house settles

in its dark reluctance,
after the owl’s belly is full

of mouse, leaves start to crash
against roof and windows.

"In the Night Still Dark" -- the engulfed life of a parent, edged in mortality, with dead leaves as the border for a tender preparation of the child for the day. And the natural world goes on the way it does, because we go on as we do. Tenderness, but never overindulgence, floods this poem, as the facts of a harsh natural world in a vast darkness swirl around the intense, mindful lighted place where a parent sends a child, dressed and ready as s/he'll ever be, out into that very same world. These pairs of lines are often end-stopped, often offering pauses and full rests at the ends of lines, until the smoother movement of the last four lines, which feel as if they are draining toward the real reality. There are two or three dizzyingly wonderful bursts ("I can't forget. I keep/notes in my pockets" -- fabulous cliffhanger on "keep," rounding to the solid, almost drab, irony of the close!) ("a license plate reads soon" -- comes after an owl peers at us, and resonates with official human efforts to collect and corral what can't be collected or corraled . . . an amazing image . . . I keep thinking that license plate is on the family SUV! But of course it could be glimpsed anywhere and nowhere. All license plates, in a way, read "soon." Once the family scene is done, the house reverts to quiet, and the inescapable mastery of nature and death resume. Lovely. ---John Timpane