That Which Served Us Well

Writer and poet Brian Doyle brings his cleverness with words to bear in the examination of our relationship with the taken-for-granted light switch.


Photo credit: shadowfirearts

Here is something that you do every day but we don’t talk about it
But this morning let’s talk about it because it’s gentle and real and
I would argue holy in that it’s a thread in your life which is a grace
And will all too soon be remembered only by those who loved you.
Every day, possibly twice or four times a day, you reach for a light
Switch without looking for it. Your hand knows where it is. In fact
Your hand and the light switches know each other very well indeed.
You just fling out your hand as you shuffle past and every day as if
By magic you do not slam your hand against the wall, and you flick
The switch with just the right infinitesimal force, and you repeat the
Act when you leave, and isn’t this amazing? You shut the back door
With your heel, you gently close the pantry door, you pop open that
Closet door with a finger without your eyeglasses, you flip open the
Cabinet without bothering to look at it, and we never remark such a
Cheerful friendly intimate familiarity, such a cousinship with doors
And light switches and faucets and handles and teapots and favorite
Mugs. But it’s such a pleasant relationship, isn’t it? Someday you’ll
Leave that house, and have to make the acquaintance of new Things,
And you’ll get used to it, it’s not that big a deal, but occasionally we
Will misfire with the new light switch, or fiddle with the new closet
Door, and we’ll feel a rueful affection for That which served us well.
It was only a house, and all houses are essentially the same, they are
Stage sets for the play within, and they’re just constructions of stuff,
But aren’t they also languages that we speak silently daily too? You
Know a house with your fingers. Of course then you flip the light on
And the bulb dies with a wild fizzling pop! – but that’s another poem.

Brian Doyle

Poet and writer Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine, has contributed to Platform and Eureka Street, and is the author of many fiction and non-fiction works, including Thirsty for the Joy.