24 October, 2013

My Concrete Constellations

The canvas overlaying the nighttime world has been fixed for all of recorded history. Each culture has looked up and seen it adorned with a different set of jeweled images, which speaks to that particular culture’s customs and values. The ones we in the modern world know best — Orion, Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, and the rest — are hand-me-downs from the ancient Greeks, whose myths were made up of such great stories that, even these thousands of years later, humanity just can’t forget them. 

Having an agreed-upon standard is useful for astronomers and hobbyist stargazers. But, as with the shapes we see in clouds, the dot-to-dots we play are arbitrary: anyone can look up there and, with a bit of imagination, make a good case for whatever they think they see.

I went through a starry-eyed phase when I was a boy. Despite having never owned a powerful telescope, I read a lot of books and magazines on astronomy — too many to stare into a star-studded sky now and not see the standard-issue constellations. There are, of course, worse cultural biases a person can be brainwashed into. Except I haven’t been able to look up at a night sky in a long time. 

Mine is the topmost of two bunks in my current prison cell. When I’m sitting upright on the bed, as I am now, handwriting the draft of this post, late on a Saturday night, about one foot of space exists between the top of my head and the ceiling, the highest point I’ve been able to reach and touch in more than a decade. There are times, sour times, when I think of it as the lid of my sarcophagus. But when I lie down there’s a perspectival change: clusters of small divots, bubbles in the painted concrete slab, transform my upper limit into an expanse of pale gray sky scattered with black stars — a negative of the true heavens rearranged. They aren’t the stars I grew up learning. Some of them I’ve cataloged and named.


I’ve had ample time to study these tiny holes paint couldn’t fill. Long enough. I feel a sense of ownership over them, but no sentimental attachment. I’d trade them for the old ones in a heartbeat.

1 comment:

  1. They will "punch out" the stars only, so that we can shine a light through the paper and project their constellations on the smart board. executive sober living ny

    ReplyDelete

Lacking computer access of any kind, Byron cannot respond to your comments but is relayed them and appreciates your kind remarks.