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


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