We live downtown, and by Wednesday we learned that there were pockets of power up by 26th and 6th. So to get out of the apartment, we'd trek up each evening about twenty blocks in the dark to find a restaurant.
The journey from our apartment to the land of light was other-worldly. It brought to mind images I've encountered over the years about the afterlife. You might think the pitch black streets would be empty, but they were loaded with other pilgrims scrounging around like us for food, warmth and whatever household supplies they were lucky enough to discover in the rare store that was open.
Many of us carried flashlights in our hands to guide our way; some wore them on their foreheads like miners. Others strolled without light at all, as if they had night vision.
Walking these streets made you feel like you were part of an army of shadows -- one of the shades of the classical underworld. And the military reference is more than just an analogy. As we strolled back and forth to our destination, we'd periodically notice the men and women of the National Guard walking along side us in camouflage attire, gently laughing and joking into the night.
But of all the shades we encountered, I found one group particularly striking. At one corner I saw, moving through the small circumference of my flashlight, a family -- mother, father and two young children -- holding hands. Briefly they appeared in my view and then the four of them dissolved back into the darkness together, like a string of cutout dolls that had momentarily come to life.
I'm not sure why I found this sight so touching. All I know is that it brought to mind other images that have stayed with me over the years. One is the last scene from Bergman's The Seventh Seal, where the Angel of Death leads his own "family" over the hill into the next world.
Another is found in Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains." Toward the end of this short story, after the bomb has annihilated its suburban landscape, all that's left of the middle-class family the tale is based around are their ashy shades on the sidewalk (while eerily, their robotic appliances go on performing their tasks, speaking to their nonexistent masters).
All of which is to say that I was able to appreciate the poetry of the blackout, which for me had something to do with the sublime, dark beauty of a brief trip through the underworld.
And I was able to look at our nightly stroll this way, of course, because, though the aftermath of the storm left us cold, uncomfortable and somewhat anxious, we didn't feel we were in immediate danger. Others still enduring the effects of the hurricane are no doubt too threatened by its devastation to appreciate its aesthetics.
My wife, the poet Elaine Equi, also saw beauty in the darkness. Her response was the following poem, in which she muses about how the blackout offered relief from the constant bombardment of sales messages:
Darkness Adds Beauty
face or object
The nineteenth century is full
of haloed humble beings
flashing the sign of their presence.
In the twentieth century, only mystics
like Walter Benjamin would notice
and lament the loss of darkness
in a world overpopulated with things.
I remember one winter long ago
I saw an entire nativity scene
on the roof of a department store:
wise men, angels, sheep
lit up and peering down
into our small cold car,
reminding us to rejoice, and to buy,
and to rejoice in our buying.
-- Elaine Equi
Anyone like to share their own thoughts on, or response to, Hurricane Sandy?