1. the state or quality of being dark: The room was in total darkness.
2. absence or deficiency of light: the darkness of night.
3. wickedness or evil: Satan, the prince of darkness.
4. obscurity; concealment: The darkness of the metaphor destroyed its effectiveness.
5. lack of knowledge or enlightenment: heathen darkness.


The dark is made of mysteries and irresistible beauty. Learning to love them can be an uncanny pleasure. Accepting that darkness can be a place of insular warmth as well as stark coldness, of safety and inviolable privacy and not just something to obscure anguish and shame. It is no small thing to admit a fear of the dark that lingers into adulthood. To feel not just the agreeable titillation of giving run to an eerie sensation for the pleasure it will provide, but to be gripped by an unnamable terror of being alone without light. So it is no small thing I do to begin in the dark. So many moments passed this way, it is fitting perhaps, but still, no small thing.

Some years ago I made to etch a lesson in my flesh; the remembrance that I have always been able to navigate even with the faintest light to guide my way

Owl medicine is about vigilance, seeing through the darkness, and shedding that which is no longer required. So, then.

Good at the first part; still learning the second.

Memories shrouded in such darkness are lit only by the sodium vapor orange which is the color of nighttime in my bedroom. There are no nightlights to offer even the most feeble reassurance, and many times they would have been useless for lack of the electricity in the house necessary to feed them. Light and noise are to be strictly limited by children in any case, but at night most especially. Walking happens only on tiptoe with the most careful steps. One must reach for the edges and corners of things to maneuver should one dare to leave the bedroom at all. Nor would it be worth the risk, but for the needs of a small and impatient body. My hands curled around the cold rim of the cast iron tub assure me I am almost there. I sit in the dark and listen to the sound of my relief. I reach behind and flush. I stand to shuffle back to my room, inching back along the length of the tub when the door flies open. Still there is no light, but the hand comes out of the dark and when in strikes me, colors flash in my head.

“You know that goddamn toilet wakes me up when you flush it. How many fucking times do I have to tell you?” I am too young to have learned yet that no answer is the right one, but that “I don’t know” is the worst possible. Better to lie than to admit puzzlement. So the hand swings out again. “If you wake me up again, I’ll beat your ass. Now shut the fuck up and go back to bed.”

I have still not totally adjusted to the idea that this person, this cousin of mine, has now become the man who’s every whim must be remembered and obeyed. That my mother’s indifferent but generally benign treatment of us is no longer the order of the day.

 Even at three this lesson is quickly absorbed. Thereafter I always remember, what it is to expect the unexpected, the punishment, to emerge from darkness. It is now my great task to realize I can live outside of it, despite its great desire to hold me.