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Nights Nothings Again

by Carl Sandburg, 1920

Who knows what I know
 when I have asked the night questions
 and the night has answered nothing
 only the old answers?

 Who picked a crimson cryptogram,
 the tail light of a motor car turning a corner,
 or the midnight sign of a chile con carne place,
 or a man out of the ashes of false dawn muttering “hot-dog” to the night watchmen:
 Is there a spieler who has spoken the word or taken the number of night’s nothings? am I the spieler? or you?

 Is there a tired head
 the night has not fed and rested
 and kept on its neck and shoulders?

 Is there a wish
 of man to woman
 and woman to man
 the night has not written
 and signed its name under?

 Does the night forget
 as a woman forgets?
 and remember
 as a woman remembers?

 Who gave the night
 this head of hair,
 this gipsy head
 calling: Come-on?

 Who gave the night anything at all
 and asked the night questions
 and was laughed at?

 Who asked the night
 for a long soft kiss
 and lost the half-way lips?
 who picked a red lamp in a mist?

 Who saw the night
 fold its Mona Lisa hands
 and sit half-smiling, half-sad,
 nothing at all,
 and everything,
 all the world ?

 Who saw the night
 let down its hair
 and shake its bare shoulders
 and blow out the candles of the moon,
 whispering, snickering,
 cutting off the snicker .. and sobbing ..
 out of pillow-wet kisses and tears?

 Is the night woven of anything else
 than the secret wishes of women,
 the stretched empty arms of women?
 the hair of women with stars and roses?
 I asked the night these questions.
 I heard the night asking me these questions.

 I saw the night
 put these whispered nothings
 across the city dust and stones,
 across a single yellow sunflower,
 one stalk strong as a woman’s wrist;

 And the play of a light rain,
 the jig-time folly of a light rain,
 the creepers of a drizzle on the sidewalks
 for the policemen and the railroad men,
 for the home-goers and the homeless,
 silver fans and funnels on the asphalt,
 the many feet of a fog mist that crept away;

 I saw the night
 put these nothings across
 and the night wind came saying: Come-on:
 and the curve of sky swept off white clouds
 and swept on white stars over Battery to Bronx,
 scooped a sea of stars over Albany, Dobbs Ferry, Cape Horn, Constantinople.

 I saw the night’s mouth and lips
 strange as a face next to mine on a pillow
 and now I know... as I knew always...
 the night is a lover of mine...
 I know the night is... everything.
 I know the night is... all the world.

 I have seen gold lamps in a lagoon
 play sleep and murmur
 with never an eyelash,
 never a glint of an eyelid,
 quivering in the water-shadows.

 A taxi whizzes by, an owl car clutters, passengers yawn reading street signs, a bum on a park bench shifts, another bum keeps his majesty of stone stillness, the forty-foot split rocks of Central Park sleep the sleep of stone whalebacks, the cornices of the Metropolitan Art mutter their own nothings to the men with rolled-up collars on the top of a bus:
 Breaths of the sea salt Atlantic, breaths of two rivers, and a heave of hawsers and smokestacks, the swish of multiplied sloops and war dogs, the hesitant hoo-hoo of coal boats: among these I listen to Night calling:
 I give you what money can never buy: all other lovers change: all others go away and come back and go away again:
 I am the one you slept with last night.
 I am the one you sleep with tonight and tomorrow night.
 I am the one whose passion kisses
   keep your head wondering
   and your lips aching
   to sing one song
   never sung before
   at night’s gipsy head
   calling: Come-on.
 These hands that slid to my neck and held me,
 these fingers that told a story,
 this gipsy head of hair calling: Come-on:
 can anyone else come along now
 and put across night’s nothings again?

 I have wanted kisses my heart stuttered at asking,
 I have pounded at useless doors and called my people fools.
 I have staggered alone in a winter dark making mumble songs
 to the sting of a blizzard that clutched and swore.
 It was the night in my blood:
   open dreaming night,
   night of tireless sheet-steel blue:
 The hands of God washing something,
   feet of God walking somewhere.

Published in Smoke and Steel

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