At night, we pushed ahead to an advanced position, so prone now in the valley that they could have wiped us out with an avalanche of stones from above; but instead, they slowly roasted us on steady artillery fire. The morning after such a night all our faces had a strange expression that took hours to wear off: Our eyes were enlarged, and our heads tilted every which way on the multitude of shoulders, like a lawn that had just been trampled on. Yet on every one of those nights I poked my head up over the edge of the trench many times, and cautiously turned to look back over my shoulder like a lover: and I saw the Brenta Mountains light blue, as if formed out of stiff-pleated glass, silhouetted against the night sky. And on such nights the stars were like silver foil cutouts glimmering, fat as glazed cookies; and the sky stayed blue all night; and the thin virginal moon crescent lay on her back, now silvery, now golden, basking in splendor. You must try to imagine how beautiful it was: for such beauty exists only in the face of danger. And then sometimes I could stand it no longer, and giddy with joy and longing, I crept out for a little nightcrawl around, all the way to the golden-green blackness of the trees, so enchantingly colorful and black, the like of which you’ve never seen.
—Robert Musil, from The Blackbird
My guardian angel is afraid of the dark. He pretends he’s not, sends me ahead, tells me he’ll be along in a moment. Pretty soon I can’t see a thing. “This must be the darkest corner of heaven,” someone whispers behind my back. It turns out her guardian angel is missing too. “It’s an outrage,” I tell her. “The dirty little cowards leaving us all alone,” she whispers. And of course, for all we know, I might be a hundred years old already, and she just a sleepy little girl with glasses.
–Charles Simic, The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems
In nineteenth-century America, some Carolina Parakeets were killed for their feathers, which were used in ladies’ hats, and thousands were shot for sport. Alexander Wilson and fellow ornithologist John James Audubon shot the birds together. They were relatively easy to kill because they loyally returned to the body of a dead or injured flockmate, as Wilson describes in his journals, published in 1840:
I had an opportunity of observing some very particular traits of their character: Having shot down a number, some of which were only wounded, the whole flock swept repeatedly around their prostrate companions, and again settled on a low tree, within twenty yards of the spot where I stood. At each successive discharge, showers of them fell, yet the affection of the survivors seemed rather to increase; for, after a few circuits around the place, they again lighted near me, looking down on their slaughtered companions with such manifest symptoms of sympathy and concern, as entirely disarmed me.
–Mira Tweti, from Of Parrots and People
To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole; but ever since the painting had vanished from under me I’d felt drowned and extinguished by vastness—not just the predictable vastness of time, and space, but the impassable distances between people even when they were within arm’s reach of each other, and with a swell of vertigo I thought of all the places I’d been and all the places I hadn’t, a world lost and vast and unknowable, dingy maze of cities and alleyways, far-drifting ash and hostile immensities, connections missed, things lost and never found, and my painting swept away on that powerful current and drifting out there somewhere: a tiny fragment of spirit, faint spark bobbing on a dark sea.
–Donna Tartt, from The Goldfinch
The undercurrent throbbing in the veins of the universe is not sorrow but joy…All unseen by us, the spheres and spirits of heaven and earth overflow in unbroken, unstoppable song.
When I pray, coincidences happen; when I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening.