Of all the quirks that define the Gazette — the seven-column broadsheet, black and white photography, house style that bows to no one — the skyline may be the most often overlooked. Prominent of placement and yet remarkably easy to pass over, it sails above the banner where most papers these days put reefers — those short blurbs, sometimes with a small image, that tease a story inside.
In its own way the skyline is a teaser too, albeit more subtle. It can reference an article, reflect the weather or tie into a holiday. It can be a quote pulled from a person in the news. It can even be a literal tease — a bit of nonsense that does nothing more than keep the reader guessing.
Though the reader would never know this, the skyline can also channel the mood of the newsroom, a cap fit to the harried moments of that particular day.
I still recall one of the weeks, during my tenure as news editor, when I filled in as graphics director (for the unskilled such as myself, a job akin to completing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle blindfolded). That Thursday — actually Friday by the clock, sometime after 1:30 a.m. — I found myself worn and brain-tired from thinking in dimensions other than verbal. But I was also done laying out the front and jump pages and relieved in every sense of the word — my duty was done and praise God for it. There was nothing left but the skyline, and the one I chose was like carving my initials in an old oak tree:
“I’ve got no deeds to do, no promises to keep. I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep, let the morning time drop all its petals on me.”
Thank you, Paul Simon.
The words came naturally that night, but at times the selection process becomes a prolonged affair. Especially in winter, when there is more time to be thoughtful — while the last reporter writes and darkness drops and the cold outside can do nothing more than whistle at the window. Then there is pleasure to be found in thumbing through Bartlett’s or clicking around the Internet, following the bread crumbs of thought wherever they lead. John Updike references T.S. Eliot. Richard Ford recalls Richard Hugo. From the Founding Fathers on down to Kennedy. Tinker to Evers to Chance.
And so it was upon reading the Gazette online this weekend that I saw the following: “Mix sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history, which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning on one day for easy, convenient memory.” Attributed to the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.
I am no student of poetry. Symbolism, allusions, deep meanings — they’re often lost on me. I admire the form for its use of language: words that sound verbal harmonies and purposeful dissonances, that dance and laugh, or mourn, but which always work with precision. A perfect expression of sentiment in such relatively few lines.
And those lines by Amichai — what an idea.
To add all our sadnesses together on one day, like those mouth-twisting German words that convey the most complex emotions. Could we ever count them all? There would be the sadness of the last bite of chocolate cake, of races lost and great books ending. Also of relatives gone and friends out of touch. Of time passing with the memory-effacing touch of the sea on sand. (Why did we not keep a better chronicle of days?) There would be the night-sadness that comes to call, awakening self-doubt in the very place we seek solace. And there would be the sadness of true tragedy befallen, of a girl who learned about a hole in her heart, of a young man who fell in the train tracks. One day for it all.
What an incredible weight it would be.
Then curiosity tapped at my shoulder. I typed Amichai’s name into the search engine and hit enter. First I tried a biography — click, read, go back, try another site — then a selection of poems — skim, scroll down, skim some more. And finally the poem. Memorial Day for the War Dead. I read it in its entirety, once and then again. There was the line, mix sorrow with sorrow, but then another following soon after: “Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.”
There it was. Always somewhere deeper to go, always something more to be found. The bright sense of possibility — the greatest tease of all.
Alexis Tonti is editorial services director for NYC & Company in Manhattan, and former news editor at the Vineyard Gazette.