I look up at the stars, and the glare from the city lights links them together, like a connect-the-dots, like the stars were meant to be. There are greek heroes and giant beasts and ladies of great beauty up there, and they will always be up there, as they have always been.
There is no one who I can tell about the stars tonight, for everyone is asleep, or ornery, or both.
The best night sky I ever saw was around a campfire in Yosemite.
It was the fourth of July, but it was cool in the mountains, and the fireflies twinkled all about, and we threw woodchips into flame as kindling and the fire grew higher and higher until, I swear, it touched the heavens.
You can’t get stars like this in the city, the park ranger said, as she told a tale of Indians and of bears and pinecones, or something like that.
The second best night sky I ever saw was in Paris, in the fifteenth arondisement, where the streets were crumbling and old houses that stood for centuries gave way to a bulldozer, a drill, and a project to expand the city metro. We sat smoking on the balcony, our legs dangling over the edge, and I swear I could see a couple fucking in the balcony across from ours, far across the street.
Isn’t it beautiful? I ask.
The fucking? She replies.
No, I say. The stars.
They are few, and they are hazy, covered by the smog of thousands of whispers, thousands of cars rumbling along the stone streets, thousands of lost poems and stories, scraps of paper thrown into gutters, and now our smoke, rising up to meet the stars, until, I swear, it touched the heavens.
The worst night I spent underneath the stars was in the mountains of the Shennandoah, the crooked, winding curve of the Appalachain trail. The mosquitoes bit, the water was almost out, and I swear, oh I swear, that I heard a bear scratching at our foodsack, tied up high in the boughs of a twisted tree.
I thought I was going to die.
Are we going to make it home? I ask.
She tries to calm me down, but I’m weighed down by guilt. I whisper to God, please let us make it through this night, please, please, oh lord, my god, the god of my ancestors, the god of Israel…
But god is too busy with wars and famine and babies being born, and babies dying, and people cursing the heavens, so I am met with silence and the whir of angry crickets in the moonlight.
It streaks through the mesh canvas of the tent, and I look up and marvel at the stars.
They would be beautiful if I wasn’t going to die so soon.
I say to myself, I wish I could live to see another night, a thousand nights, a million nights. I wish I could live to see another night like the night in Yosemite, or the night in Paris. I wish I could live to watch the stars with my children, swinging on a porch swing (on my back porch, my very own).
Gee, I say to myself, wouldn’t that be nice.
I lived, of course, to see more stars, like the stars tonight that I couldn’t tell anyone about, because everyone was asleep, or ornery, or both.
Somewhere, somewhere far from here, a little boy looks at the stars. And he sits, dangling his legs out the balcony of a grumbling ghetto apartment. And the bombs ricochet against walls that lie only a few blocks away, and the ground shakes. And the little boy is a descendant of David, a great king, but he’ll never know it, for this little boy is not great, but is only, merely, a little boy. He likes to play hopscotch on the cracked sidewalks with cobblestones as markers and dirt as chalk. He likes to shoot at pigeons with his slingshot. He likes to watch the television when he goes over to his friend’s houses (he doesn’t have one, and never will). He likes to color in the margins of his tattered schoolbooks. He likes to read old crumpled up newspapers that he finds in gutters. He likes to lick the juice from a tangerine out from the rinds. He likes to look up at the stars and imagine they are vendors in a giant bazaar, and all the airplanes and flashing satellites are the customers and they buy fine silks and rubies from the stars. The satellite that broadcasts the television programs the boy loves so much buys some emeralds from a distant star. The star thanks the satellite as it takes golden coins as payment, and then it implodes on itself and a black hole forms and sucks all the nice linens and jewels that the star sold away, and no one will ever get to look at them again.
I know people who do not care about the stars, and they do not care about the earth, or the streams, or the valleys. They do not care about the salt in the ocean air, the tangy breeze after a heavy summer rain, the smell of the cold air right before a snowfall. There are people I know who hate great literature, and they loathe themselves. I get along with these people, but I would never tell them about the stars tonight, because they wouldn’t care.
When I was little I was very lonely, because I was small and sickly and had no one to play with. I wondered why God made me so bushy and small. I wondered why he made my eyebrows so thick and my skin so red and freckled. I wondered why it was that when my cuts and scrapes would heal they would leave white marks that would linger for a year or more. I fell one summer and scraped all my joints, and I couldn’t move. By the time I was healed the leaves had turned colors and it was time for school. I sat at my window and wondered how long it would take these scars to heal. The neighbor boy called from his back porch, come over, come over!
I decided not to, and the neighbor boy sat on his porch and watched the stars while a dog panted softly on his lap.
I have a scar under my chin that has never healed. I once tried to connect all of my freckles together, but there were too many. The first boyfriend I ever had said he liked me for my freckles.
They’re cute, he said. I don’t know anything about him, and I never did. All I know is that I was young and lonely, and he was older and lonely and needed someone to kiss for a few days one summer. A month ago he called me, though I don’t remember ever giving him my number. He breathes into the phone, long, labored breaths. I talk to him out of pity, because the one thing I do know about him is that he is still lonely, and I am not.
The stars are nice tonight, I say.
They aren’t really anything special, but I say it anyway. From wherever he is he says he can’t see any stars. Try, I say. They’re there even if it’s cloudy, even if you’re in a city. Go outside.
I’m in my basement, he says. You tell me how the stars look.
I hang up the phone, and I don’t answer when he calls the next day, and I don’t answer ever again.
Seven years ago there was a cosmic event; all I remember that it was a once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event. It was all over the newspapers. The sad thing was, no kids would get to see it, because it was going to happen at 3 a.m.
My parents woke me up to see the sky that night. It was a chilly April, and I didn’t have time to throw shoes on.
I asked what I was supposed to be searching for in that sky.
I don’t know, they say, and we go inside and forget it ever happened, and it doesn’t happen again in our lifetimes, and we don’t notice either way.