The power went out in my corner of Gloucester about 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 27. I was watching storm news. Then I wasn’t. It was pitch dark outside and instantly became so inside. No television, no night lights, no digital clock radio, no street light seeping in. No electrons = no photons. I found our one feeble flashlight, about as bright as one firefly. I switched to candles. One candlepower is equal to 1/50th of a 60-watt bulb (viz. firefly). Six candles got our kitchen to the light level used in Ghost Hunters.
But the candles did get me through an early breakfast and sunrise – which I took on faith. The Dawn that Wednesday was actually the Less Dark: a drizzle of photons mixed with heavy rain and the gale winds that woke me in the first place. This meant reading and working next to windows, bundled against drafts — no heat, of course. It also meant anxious walks, waiting, asking neighbors if they had heard any news. They hadn’t. More walks, more anxiety.
My only accomplishment was scribbling out the list of emergency supplies that I scribble out during every emergency: flashlights brighter than fireflies, a transistor radio, more candles, matches, Sterno, a first aid kit, a phone charger that works in the car, and non-perishable foods like crackers, shelf-stable milk, dried fruit, canned everything, a manual can opener, peanut butter, Scotch. Walks and and making that list got me through the less-dark day, ready for a second night of darkness. Then, something even more strange happened: I started to enjoy it.
The idea of having traveled to the past Less Darked on me down. I started to sympathize with most of humanity, pre-electricity humanity. With their horse and buggy, pre-combustion days, of course. But with more sympathy for their nights: certainly the dim light, and the cold, stiff fingers I was experiencing. And: chopping wood or shoveling coal, stoking fires, pumping wells, stumbling to the outhouse. All this handled with admirable patience and grit that we have lost. I pictured Poe writing in those conditions, Jefferson and his perfect penmanship by torch, and Herman Melville creating Moby Dick by candlelight. (Make that a whale oil lamp.) Though a century and more into the electrified age, I felt a communion with my time-machined brothers and sisters. I communed with their grit, their patience, and their early, very early bedtimes. I communed with peace and its wonderful blackout partner – quiet.
Poems about photons – or electrons, blackouts – are rare. I looked. As a topic, they rank far below love, nature, birthdays, age, anxiety... I’ve tried in a small way to correct the deficit:
Ode to Photons
”Red-reflected photons are just as fleet
As others reflected from green or white.
Science explains both spectrum and speed:
Having no mass, they travel light.”
John Ronan is a former poet laureate for the city of Gloucester and host of “The Writer’s Block” on Cape Ann TV.