Somewhere in the Arizona desert, north of Paulden, I pull the white whale to a crunching stop on a patch of roadside dirt. We are still at least an hour shy of our destination, Williams, and the Motel 6 awaiting us.
Night though it is, the car is filled with the voices of the dozen or so riders. Sebastian and Nicolas dominate with an endless, good-natured chatter regarding games, cartoon characters, technotopics and just plain silliness that never stops.
Professor Murray is filling any small bit of auditory space remaining by coaching Grace, recently moved from China to the US, to speak in a western drawl – “Howdy pahdner,” she says, in a pretty fair approximation of John Wayne. Grace has already picked up a black cowboy hat, ironically made in China, which she wears proudly, day and night, inside and out.
The stop catches everyone by surprise.
“What are we doing out here?”
“Is something wrong?”
“Hey! What’s going on?”
“Stars,” I say. “We have stopped to see the stars.”
Some sounds of delight, some grumbling but most pile out to assemble on the little patch of dirt along the gray road.
It is cold in the desert and quiet.
the immensity of night
as it was and should be
unfold in sheets of fire
they come into focus
blue-white, yellow, and red
We stare back into time long ago
a spasm of fusion and then
a billion, billion more
so deep, so far
All remote and the fire so far away.
A point of light
across the sky
Burn on entry
We stand and shiver
The silence is vast
From out of the black
a whisper at first then
of growling diesel fume
A truck hurtling towards us- headlights –
such tiny, tiny lights – but they dazzle.
The stars fade
we stand illuminated
a startled unmoving second
to find ourselves unalone.
Doppler fading of truck roar.
The stars unfold in patience indifference.
and she said that we should see the stars again and I agreed and she meant that it should be the two of us but the implication of that was fraught so we talked about it loud and present and then everyone was good to go.
Professor Murray and his wife Estelle declined, so a small subset of our crew decamped for an astral quest in the belly of a whale. Motel 6 had kindly, though quite without knowledge, lent us bedspreads and blankets for our star platform. We bounded along dirt roads in the van. Each time the road forked we’d choose the smaller path till we were somewhere final in a darkling pine forest.
“Found it,” I said.
We spread the blankets on the ground, covering rocks and pinecones, ants, nocturnal predators of all sorts – scorpions, spiders – God knows. All rendered inert by the power of the Motel Six blankets.
“Look, the first star!”
“No, it’s a planet.”
Some lie, some sit, some stand. I am lying beside her. We are close but separated by discretion and gulfs of all sorts. My eyes see a different world. So much behind. So much still to be.
We lie on our backs and look up at the stars; they are partially obscured by trees and clouds which drift, dark upon dark, across our field of view.
Bats flitter following the invisible trail of their voice. An owl again. The muffled rustle of nightbreeze in pine branches. The moon rises and the stars dim a bit. The cold settles upon us.
Slowly the others return to the shelter of the van. The dome light blinks on. I hear the chatter rise as they settle in and restart the endless conversation.
Now it is just the two of us. She is cold and sinks into herself, trying to hang on to the warmth drawn out of her body by the cold night and the cold ground.
My embrace would keep her warm. So far the gulf. I proffer a motel 6 blanket instead.
Blue sky looks upon and above blue water brilliance light glints on the sea; ripple of light – miles of light.
Perched atop a Big Sur cliff, a hundred, five hundred, a thousand feet above the sea. But not more than an inch. Distance is no more.
I lie in a pool of hot water, lately bubbled up from the dark fire below. Jetted up through cracks to flow hissing and steaming over rockface into incongruous porcelain tubs.
The light shines
All is revealed in light
Glad the touch!
Glad the spark!
Glad the embrace!
Glad the song!
The pounding heart
The pull of the sea
(shining in light)
Glad the silence.
The sun shines through, above in blueblue sky, blue upon blue, in the light, stars appear. Stars fill the blue and the light is doubled, trebled – brilliance beyond brilliance.
Overwhelmed by present wondering awe. By the memory of distance. By the resolution of touch.
I watch as, one by one, gently as snowflakes, the stars fall from the sky. Sparktrails cascading into the sea.