That’s how summer feels in Houston. The sun looms closer than elsewhere, and is harder to ignore. There’s the light, glaring, unmediated white light, and radiant heat and all the invisible wavelengths of light. When I walk outside after being indoors much of the day, my skin tingles as though something crawled on it. The sunlight is palpable, energy with the heft of matter. Seattle averages fifty-eight days of sun a year; Houston, 204.
I think I first learned of Olber’s Paradox from the late Martin Gardner. Why is the night sky dark rather than blazingly light, as the existence of an infinite number of stars would suggest? Collected in Grace Notes: Poetry from the Pages of First Things (2010) is “Olber’s Paradox” by Robert W. Crawford:“The heavens hold more stars than earth has grains
Of sand, and given time, each tiny sun
Combined should make a world where starlight stains
The sky bright white and dark would be undone.
And yet the night remains. The dim stars gleam
Their separate ways, and constellations drawn
Connect their dots, while under them we dream
And sleep, then wake to such a thing as dawn.
The universe, expanding since its birth,
Is larger, older than its light; sublime,
The force that keeps this constant day from earth —
The same that measures out our years — is time:
The limitation that provides us night
And saves us all from unremitting light.”
I remember concluding when very young that everything – or at least everything humans perceive – was the result of light. No light: no life. Similarly, since first reading the poems of Helen Pinkerton in Taken in Faith: Poems (2002), light and its corollary, darkness, have seemed ubiquitous in poetry, as fact and irresistible metaphor. This should have dawned on me (itself a light metaphor) years ago when first reading Dante. Here is another, earlier poem by Pinkerton, “Visible and Invisible”:
“In touching gently like a golden finger,
The sunlight, falling as a steady shimmer
Through curling fruit leaves, fills the mind with hunger
For meaning in the time and light of summer.
“Dispersed by myriad surfaces in falling,
Drawn into green and into air dissolving,
Light seems uncaught by sudden sight or feeling.
Remembered, it gives rise to one's believing
“Its truth resides in constant speed descending.
The momentary beauty is attendant.
A flicker of the animate responding
Shifts in the mind with time and fades, inconstant.”
The invisible makes the visible possible, light as being, everything the result of light.