Skywatching

We looked and looked––so as not to miss it, so as not to be missed.

Squinting, we studied the faces. It’s all Greek, you said, of the letters. We looked back and forth: the sky, the charts, the corresponding manual. We couldn’t help ourselves; we kept returning, flashlights wrapped in red cellophane. What are we doing? You asked, as if to acknowledge the elephant.

They circled us. Or, they held in place as we spun. Or, it was all spinning, all of it pulling apart. The lines, at least, indicated order. The wandering stars came and went. Those are planets, you said. We nodded, wearing grave expressions to indicate our intended recognition of the obvious.

You continued. See the hunter’s belt, his right knee, the blade of his sword. Notice the white spot at his crown, how he gazes toward the head of the bull. We followed the book, looked up. Back to the book. 

Daughters of Atlas, braiding bright––and across the way, the dog star. Now the she-goat and her kids; now the charioteer. We pretended, at first, to see them. We didn’t want the story to vanish. The Big Dipper was offered: Take this cup, and our mouths fell open, heads back.

Our own galaxy is ragged, irregular, its dark nebulae like curtains hiding the light. In the spring came Ariadne, and then Theseus after the Minotaur. Surrounded by the walls of the labyrinth he built, the craftsman must have plead his case to the same sky, dreaming Icarus’s wings. 

Now the head of the hydra, now the snake and the eagle behind it. Now the scorpion, and here’s the instrument of song with Vega its center. He played for love, Orpheus, until he lost it, looking back. 

Now comes the winged horse. We looked and looked––so as not to miss it, so as not to be missed. No, I think that’s it! That must have been it! Unless it was the southern fish, unless it was the dolphin, coming to save the poet and his songs.

Turning and turning, Andromeda’s spiral, and the ram bled before it––until the dragon was installed at the gates, to guard the fleece. The royal family stood beyond them. At last, another hero with a sword, looking for something to slay. He asks the three sisters, finds the gorgon sleeping, takes the head.

There were other monsters to fight, other maidens to scatter, and Look! Do you see them there? Strewn from the east to the west?

I am telling you, we tried. So great was our wish to understand something; so great was our need to be tied to something that the ancients also knew, to run our hands across some venerable form that had managed to keep living, even after the bombs and the weather, even now––that we believed ourselves when we said Yes, and Yes!

Yes, we see! There––and there! Seeming with our raised arms to behold what held us, but what was it? We didn’t care, not really. Its substance was beside the point. In that moment what we wanted was the relief of our surrender. To say Show us, and wait, deciding in the silence: We believe.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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