Somewhere in the Arizona desert, I pull the white whale to a crunching stop on the crest of a small hill north of Paulden Arizona. 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 computer 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’re stopping to see stars.”
Some sounds of delight, some grumbling but most pile out to assemble on the patch of dirt, gray along the 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, red.
We gaze into time long ago
– a spasm of fusion- 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
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 patient indifference
and she said that we should see the stars again and I agreed and she meant that it should be just the two of us but the implication of that was fraught so we talked about it loud and present and everyone is good to go
Professor Murray declines, so a subset of our crew decamp for an astral quest in the belly of a whale. Motel 6 has kindly, though quite without knowledge, lent us bedspreads and blankets for our star base. We bound along dirt roads in the whale. Each time the road forks, we choose the smaller path till we are somewhere final in a darkling pine forest.
“Found it,” I say.
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.
A flitter of bats
An owl again
In pine branches
The moon rises
The stars dim
Cold settles upon us
Slowly, the others return to the shelter of the Whale. The dome light blinks on. I hear the chatter rise as they settle in to 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 cold night and cold ground.
would warm her
So far the gulf
I offer a Motel 6 blanket instead.
Blue sky looks upon and above blue water brilliance light glints on the sea; ripples of light – miles of light.
Atop a cliff, a hundred, five hundred, a thousand feet above the sea. Distance is no more.
I lie in a cocoon 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
through a tracing
water plain refracted
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, gentle as snowflakes, the stars fall from the sky. Sparktrails cascade into the sea.