The Night-Black Suit (header illustration)

The Night-Black Suit

My father had a night-black suit
With a night-black tie up to his throat
And gloves so dark, when they were on
You wondered where his hands had gone
Alone each night, upon the stage
He laboured for a modest wage
Performing for an audience
Made mostly of indifference
His act, perhaps, I should explain:
In his night-black suit, he took great pains
To imitate the shades and effects
Of darkness, to amaze and perplex
Lo! He was twilight! And lo, the crepuscule!
Then lo, he was the gloaming, dusky, sweet and cool!
Then lo, he was a shadow! And lo, a silhouette!
Ladies and gentlemen, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
But the ladies and the gentlemen
(Those bothering to pay attention)
Stared mutely, or politely clapped
And waited for the following act
On Sundays, in his study
For hours he’d practise diligently
The deeper, darker, nether shades
The blackest blacks, the greyest greys
And when I was a little tot
He’d sit me down, go through the lot
And rapt, I lapped up every grey
From hint-of-morn to end-of-day
“My art has heights I’ve yet to climb,”
He told me once. “But, given time,
“I know one day it will reveal
“The possibilities I feel.”
But as I grew up, more and more,
Alone within, he’d lock the door
To better undisturbed assume
A nagging shade of dogged gloom
His final show (not announced as such)
Occurred one dismal night in March
When he paused mid-act, as if on a whim
And addressed the auditorium
“Ladies — ladies and gentlemen!
“Each night, for your entertainment
“I’ve faithfully imitated for you
“Darkness, twilight, shade and shadow
“I might instead have worked in colours—
“A surer way to please the masses—
“But I prefer the subtleties
“Of the finer-nuanced blacks and greys.”
And as he spoke, he buttoned up
His night-black jacket to the top
Until, like a planet out in space,
There hung, in the dark, his floating face
“In pursuit of your appreciation
“I’ve tried every tenebrous variation
“Seeking to touch your minds, your hearts
“With the truth and beauty of my humble art
“But never before has any audience
“Witnessed what I am about to present
“For tonight I reveal my ultimate
“You ain’t seen nothing — no, not yet.”
And his night-gloved hands he slowly raised
Until they covered all his face
For a moment there was something there
A darkness pendant in the air—
Then nothing, showing somehow where a nothing should not be
Not lightlessness nor shadow, but a nothing, literally
And then that too had disappeared
The audience stared, then stood, then cheered
Applause resounded round the hall
Calls of “More! Again! Encore!”
The lights came up, but — how to explain?
My father was never seen again.
What little remained passed onto me
They brought it round respectfully
His night-black suit, so heavy yet so light
The weight, it had, of nothingness and night.
And now, at day’s end, with dark encroaching
I think of him, almost feel him watching
And, refraining from putting on the light,
I let the evening shade into night
For, inside his pocket, I found a note
In my father’s muted copperplate
So brief, so full, it read: “My son,
“Do not imitate — become!”
Copyright © 2018 Murray Ewing.