“And My Sky Full of Stars”
by Deborah J. Brannon
There are many sides to every story; there are countless stars in my sky. All of this is true and none of it is true.
I wake at night and I’m terrified it’s all a dream.
My sheets are tangled about my sweat-slicked form, adding a physical feeling of constriction to the subconscious terror of my awakening limbs. My heart beats faster than a gazelle’s run and I am left weak.
But my bed’s empty and the morning star fled. I am alone in my night terror and it is this that begins to calm me.
not a dream.
The pain still lingers where heartache has been. The tears are still wept. The web is still spinning in a profusion of beauty on the world tree, more gorgeously yet because of the sadness and the hope I have found.
I find my hands cramped into contorted whorls about my slate sheets. Unclenching them is my first accomplishment and I am glad for it.
My heart slows to a more agreeable thump-thump-thump and I swallow back the irrational neediness of company, reassurance.
The morning star, fallen, always found himself alone and this wounded him. I would not imitate such a loss of grace.
This pain and fear in the night are mine, yes. And so is the realization and resolution of will that shows me morning coming.
Like the earth I worship, I am always here for myself. Whether or not the morning star does shine.
Tonight I wanted to go to the top of the tallest building. I spoke passionately of seeing with clarity, thinner air and brighter stars. You, the brightest star of my evening, hated to deny me anything. We went.
Walking through the doors of the building, we entered into the silence of a sacred place or a tomb. Perhaps there is no difference between death and other, death being the ultimate otherness. No tourists marred the stillness and we hushed our own footsteps, holding hands and leaning haphazardly into each other as we padded toward the elevator.
An odd affair, the elevator waited with the benevolent passivity of a confessional. A bench jutted out from the back, leaving little standing room. The elevator was bisected by a latticed screen, lit dimly by a yellowed glow and harboring a void that begged to be filled with tales of sins. I paused, my pagan heart skittering against this voiceless call, but firmly moved forward. My sins were confessed; perhaps my passion would be enough to sate this confessional cloister that would lift us above the world. And because we were both confessors and both the confessed, it made no sense to separate within the booth. I straddled you mischievously as we both alighted on one side.
Earlier this evening I had sobbingly told you my sins. My flesh already naked under your warming stare, the two of us twined in bed, I laid my soul bare as well. I apologized for nothing though my tears revealed to you my heartfelt shame. My sins had been inflicted truly on no one but myself. “These are my sins,” I said, hands open. You nodded, you kissed me, you touched my shoulders. “I love you” and there was no “still” for there never were any conditions.
And now, hours later, this confessional moved us toward the stars. I kissed you, our bodies flaring to life as floor after floor flashed past, mindless of our shallow-breathed need. Our hands knew no boundaries in the dim light, cloth no barrier, lips trying to press through flesh to the spirit beneath and, gasping, become whole.
The doors opened, we tumbled out, our ascent done. I fell laughing on top of you, momentarily forgetting to look up, knowing only the quicksilver soul of the man I hold. And, there, on top of you, before the white flash of light that finished our cries, I saw the nighttime sky reflected in your eyes. Pools of darkness and spinning orbs within the eyes of the man I love.
Whenever I look up into the night, I still am captured within your eyes.
It’d be snowing in a couple of days, but that night all was still. Everything was sharpened, everything had an edge. The stars cut, the moon presided in haughty splendor. Buildings looked more real, cut in deep relief by their shadows. People shimmered and, where we touched, connections trailed. Our breath steamed life in the cold air.
We all had a reason to be mistaken, to make mistakes.
Except you, steady northern star. You rode high above us and yet grounded me in that night, my darkness, our new year’s eve.
Small glasses, potent spirit, gaping mouths. We drank with abandon, saturating our blood with the holy liquid, the nectar we thought would make us gods. We burned with convinced divinity, too hot in a mortal home, too restless. We needed cool air, a nighttime sky.
We stood huddled outside, our faces wreathed in the white and gray smoke of our life’s breath and illicit cloves. A single moment of clarity: you were beautiful, you were natural. You belonged so close to me I thought you must have grown right there, leafing into the fullness of that moment. This was one truth.
We smiled honest smiles of two ancient friends, touched each other easily and comfortably. You kissed my cheek, I attempted to take your cigarette. I should have known I mistook sickness for rapture when I held the smoldering end and felt nothing. You batted my hand away in concern.
My world turned upside down. You tilted your head to continue to see how I saw, recognized what I could not. My legs felt so long, a serpent curled up my backbone. I wanted to walk, long-strided, but where? I turned away from the house; you turned me back, led me deep inside to a tiny room.
Light burned, colors wheeled before my pained eyes. I was too grounded by the visual: I maintained an equilibrium that twisted my insides, tore them apart and left me stranded in a world of agonized misery. My steady stomach would die a martyr’s death.
“Turn off the lights,” I begged. The darkness robbed me of all equilibrium. I tilted crazy in the void, could not tell if your hand on my head came from above or below or behind or… I lost all track of time, knew only you and my consequences and my missing morning star.
You saved me, brought me back from fear and introduced me to half-emptiness. I thanked you for it with all my soul, craved your hand on my back as it grounded and sickened, warmed and comforted. My illusions crashed that night but you never wilted away.
We were gods. We were children. We were stars burning in the night, in the north, together.
I think light moves differently in Paris—it must be the air. The lights wink and beckon, ever a sensuous apparition and wholly hypnotic.
The biting wind that had hurried me into the Basilique du Sacre Coeur, nipping at my blue jeaned legs as so many loose dogs, was gone. The chill remained, sharpening everything, and those lights, those strange lights beckon me down the hill.
I had been praying for a long time, crouched down in front of the altar for so long that I’d forgotten why, listening to so much French that I’d forgotten it and my native tongue too. I had been rendered dumb, a phantom, or a creature with only eyes and no wit to move when inaction had become meaningless. My voice gone, my prayers long away whittled from incoherent mumbles to silence, both equal in meaning, I now found in myself only void.
I needed a light.
Monmartre had plenty. I thought no one would mind, not the shopkeepers or the tourists, if I took one.
Eyes reeling from wavering lights in shop windows to abandoned lights flashing through the streets, at last my staggering heart glimpsed an array of stars. This array that was just for me, spinning with careless frivolity in the center of my night: the carousel.
I didn’t notice you when I clambered with childlike innocence onto this fantastic monstrosity. I didn’t notice the ravens in your eyes, circling passionately over the Parisian face, stop singularly upon me. I picked a horse, resplendent old wood, painted in rich colors that still shone despite the passage of time. I stroked flanks worn to silk, admired the cornflower blue, the diamonds patterned into the saddle. I grasped the pole and arched my back, reveling in the light and noise, circular motion of my joy.
You leaned against a mahogany steed, the wood so dark it looked touched by fire. It was your blood that called to me, turned my eyes to face the pales of yours. My heart stopped, stuttered. Something happened to the air between us, it twirled and compressed. I slid from the carousel horse to walk, hands steadying my swaying body on the passing withers and flanks of a rainbow of horses, toward you.
“You were gone,” I said stupidly. The void howled for dirt, for life, for passion, for dancing, for anything to be thrown in.
There were no more words between us in the confusion of our meeting, the whirling of our night. Your lips curled sensuously in greeting and I found myself pressing mine to yours in an exultant baptism of fire. Lightning lanced through me, could you feel it? I would never be the same again. A flare so hot and so cold that I would be confused for life. But for that night, eastern star, we stayed on the carousel, whirling.
“You don’t need to be here.” Your conviction was such a simple thing, based on concern for simply me. Your careful eyes stared at me from across the table, pierced through the ghosts that were eating me alive. My grandmother’s house pained me.
My heart beat very fast. “Alaska.” We would go to Alaska. There would be snow there and clean cold air. We could both write books and play with the cats when we weren’t being lazier than them. There would be fire and curiosity. How illusory my dream of ice and fire. How complex and simple your dream of me.
Wolves howl in Alaska. This would help me sleep.
Wildness, distance, and peace drew me. I drew you. We crawled into a car; you put it into drive.
I stared over the dashboard at the unending road. The white line became a white snake eternally eaten yet eternally there. I was mesmerized. The space between us gaped and stuttered. I had no feel for your thoughts.
Alarm clenched my stomach, my eyes stirred at the sign that flashed past. “South. We’re going south?”
“Are we?” Bafflement laced the two syllables.
“Let me.” We exchanged places, control. I found the city again, the proper road with its new white snake. Yet this time I watched signs flash past, restless announcers in the night. You shook your knee in your seat, hummed, sang under your breath, “it’s all been done before.” You leaned your head against the window, stared up into the night.
My horrified eyes watched the road inevitably curve. I could not control its direction, only follow, until once again we drove to the south.
“South. We’re going south?” My voice lay sullen with confusion, despair. It flopped down between us as you turned from the stars to look at me with pitying wounded eyes.
“I’m sorry.” I stopped, hung my head, ears rebelling from the expected apology. No use in denying your fault. “You’ll want to find the city again.”
I didn’t trust either one of us to drive. I got out of the car and started walking out of the south.
I have felt wholeness before.
In a place filled with the rushing of rain, the warmth of bodies, the laughter of my sisters beyond blood. Our sisterhood was forged in a night so pure we may never see it’s like again, in a moment of such contentment that, at that moment, all else looked barren.
You two smiled at the bottle, smiled at me, said it was time to be introduced. José, my new best friend. Tall tiny glasses and I gaped, horrified, “There’s no way I can drink all that in one go.” You two begged to differ.
“Salt, tequila, lime,” you said and I had no more chance to demur. We drank.
I sank back against the counter as the liquid amber spread giddy warmth throughout. “Can we have another?” You both laughed.
Another gone and our love as complete as ever. I’ll never remember who spoke our simultaneous thought, but there it was, one tongue shaping “let’s take a walk.” The sound of pouring rain was the sweetest temptation we’d ever heard.
We tumbled out into the night, into the rushing, gentle rain. The stars were obscured yet we three burned bright enough to light our way. We splashed and jumped, laughed and marveled at this euphoria, this spontaneous belonging found in a June Alabama night.
We were thoroughly soaked and our blood sang with the pleasure. We linked hands and danced on the lawn, without shame, with only heartfelt delight and love. We threw our gratitude toward the heavens as, shoeless, we grounded ourselves in mud, in the sweet earth. There was nothing truer on earth than ourselves in that moment.
We broke that moment between us like bread, each taking our part and lodging it deep, selfishly and selflessly, into our hearts. our commitment complete, our promise made, we went inside. The sacred slid away, leaving only the shattered pieces that would tie our hearts together forever.
We stripped naked as newborns and wore blankets the rest of the night. Such glorious western stars shone only slightly fettered.
We left the mountain that morning. The white light, the sun fire, slipped downward along the rolling highway, a falling morning star. We were strapped inside, tumbling down the side of a sleeping giant.
I couldn’t see much else besides you. You always blinded me, drawing the moth of my being to the flame of yours. Outside the car was verdant green, a lively warmth invigorating birdsong, animal movement. My pagan heart would have died to dance the hills if I hadn’t been so distracted and pulled, wing-clipped and involved in the enigma of your spirit.
I sang to myself, silent. My heart sheltered my creativity like the most secret of flames.
you are my morning star
but you fell farther than Lucifer
when you fell into my dreams
fell far and dragged me down to here
my morning star
I didn’t speak, but cultivated stillness. You would dislike the movement of my voice. I would fear the dearth of understanding should I be heard: the dismissal of meaning.
Your round face glowed with life. I loved it. You so beautiful with your mud eyes, easy features. The sight of you clenched songs from my heart. This face was the first thing I wanted to see in the morning and the last at night. This face I longed to see above me and beneath my hands. For so long, all I wanted was to make you near me.
I looked behind us. We were leaving something precious behind as we came down the mountain. We were leaving truth and openness and simple existence. We were leaving the truth of ourselves stranded in the woods. We were leaving the only place I ever thought we saw each other clearly.
I ached for it as if with anticipation for what would come. I knew my river was rushing, the morning star falling. I knew I must rise to shine. I already missed you. I still do.
I can still taste you on my lips.
My plane’s taking off. The city never sleeps and so the roar of engines is but the addition of a cello in the unending orchestral performance. I never lean back in my seat, pressing face to glass, waiting for the inevitable moment of movement as much as blindly searching the sea of lights for a lingering impression of your face.
The wheels are rolling, the lights along the take-off streaming by. Any half-formed vision is whipped away by the sheer exultation of leaving the ground. Momentarily, momentarily, I forget, lost in the abandon of a human finally unfettered by the earth. I watch the city fall away and become a constellation of stars until I am so entwined in my observation that I can’t tell which stars are humanity’s lights and which the angel’s.
I can still taste you on my lips.
The glass thrums against my cheek. I don’t mind. Cobweb clouds slide between my vision and the stars, then fade away. My memories of you are similar: the ghosts of a passionate touch tingle across my skin then fade away with the chill of absence.
You looked so calm this night when I told you I had to leave. The words fled from my mouth as so many outcasts, unwanted but present yet. The inviting sprawl of your masculine limbs merely enfolded me closer. You told me you loved me and I could feel something more, a captured sea of expression welling in your throat.
“What more do you want to say?”
“I am at peace.” and knowing how you usually think, a rushing torrent of worry and minutiae, this touched me and turned my inner smile outward. How it pained me to roll from that bed of understanding. To exit into the night that still embraced us with the lingering warmth of an equatorial day. To let you kiss me into line, my one bag by my feet where you left it, my arms feeling yet the clench of your hands, my ticket held tightly to my breast.
And now this moment of beauty, earth-stars and sky-stars and me suspended between. The taste of you on my lips, reminding me ever to return. You, my evening star.
We crested the hill in the moonlight, battle scars stinging. It’d been a long way through the desert, a long time since we’d last seen the sun. The sun never shone in this forsaken place. We only had each other and the stars to lead us north toward gentler lands.
We loved and furied with each other spectacularly in our long night. Sometimes we’d march determinedly along, five feet from each other and not speaking. We thought this separated us, thought we could shake our spirit’s kin. How wrong. Stars do not choose the stories humans make for them, the connections humans draw.
Someone drew us connected long ago.
For a long time, what should have been many cycles of Luna and Sol, all we knew was the journey and each other. All we saw was fine fractured black dust mounded in dunes or eddying against the diamond-pocked obsidian sky. Sometimes this was enough. And sometimes it was not.
We crested the hill in the moonlight, battle scars stinging. We saw the oasis, walked there hand in hand. We smelled the water. We stepped beneath the canopy of lush vegetation. I kissed your cheek, you blessed my shoulder, we fed each other water with cupped and dripping hands.
We rose again to walk only to find the oasis had no end.
The sun was shining, monkeys chittering. The desert was no more and the heat had become one pregnant with moisture. We moved on, unsurprised. Your dark skin shone with the absorbed light of the northern stars. My pale skin gleamed.
We walked on, hands outstretched, fingers touching. Our shadows cast latticed patterns upon the leaf littered forest floor.
We walked on, to the north, together, two wandering stars.
I never could wait to see you dressed up. You cut a dashing figure in tie and tails, debonair your hands as they tipped your hat. The devious blue of your eyes cut deeper than your charming smile. The silken fall of your blonde mane was barely tamed by the whimsical silver clip, fashioned in the form of a goblin crowned.
Did you lead me to the gazebo or had I led you? My memory will never be sure. Drowsing in the moonlight, the airy and filigreed white of the wood was a calming presence on the green. From whence came this storm that now captured me in the gazebo’s heart, in your embrace?
Your hands sank into the silken folds of the russet cloth enveloping my body. I could feel your need to be closer to me than this dress, hear the aching cry of your desire with your every indrawn breath. I could not find my core, though it shivered without my consent.
I lit up a cigarette. Smoke of burning cloves drifted twisting in the air, veiling the illicit gleaming of my eyes.
“You want to dance.” You took my hands and so I did. I hadn’t realized but your voice thrilled me into a whirlwind, spellbound by the mercurial mind behind the sensual mask of your face.
The cigarette dangled from my fingers as we spun about the borders of the gazebo, circling in only to spiral out. Our energy fed upon itself, two discrete bodies and one smoldering cigarette creating all the light we cared to see.
And, yet, I could not feel my body though you touched it so dearly. I could not feel the smoke that my lungs encased, breathed out again. I was without my temple. I could not tell if this was violation or liberation. I was not myself, but a cat, mindless, basking in the light of an eastern star and chasing it crazy across the lawn.
At last we twirled down the steps of the gazebo, only to lose our cyclic momentum on the sea of shadow-shrouded green. I smiled though I could not feel, professed contentment mistaken from rapturous disengagement.
I never meant to be wrong. We collapsed upon the lawn, staring up into the bejeweled sky. And, though I faced eastward toward you, I did not cast my eyes downward again. You pulled me to my feet and twirled me slowly home.
You were a different man then. But, as I stood outside your house that night, I didn’t know about now. I just knew what love felt like and deep caring, how to comfort facing loss, how to draw meaning as if from a bottomless well.
“That one’s yours,” you said, pointing over my shoulder, toward the south. You stood very close behind me and trembled. I still couldn’t tell which glittering star you picked. I loved them all. We were all made from the same stuff. They were all me, all us. I didn’t say anything. I smiled.
My eyes turned back toward the door lit from within. One tiny, but fierce feline warrior blinked owlishly out. I looked past the beast, far away into some avoided place. You watched me, followed my thought so well until your face collapsed, concave. “You can’t, not now,” a hollowed-out voice.
Silence. My throat ached with it. My eyes pricked at the general hostility of the universe, at the ultimate cellular betrayal, malfunction, At the pain inherent in the human condition. Silence, a live thing. Until I finally found a smile, drew upon my deep reserve of hope. The stars still burned.
I tugged my keys from my pocket. “We’re leaving.”
Leaving, we drove south. I followed the spilled ink of the highway, past the patchwork quilt of lit and darkened homes, past it all, where street lights only happened every now and then. Most often then. The middle of a Southern nowhere.
You said nothing, and neither I. Comfortable merely to be away, to be together, momentarily to be blinded by the brilliance of a country nighttime sky. Wandering out into a field, we stared up at the stars. I did not see how often you glanced down at me. I’m nearly always looking up.
I singled out the biggest rock, flat and warm yet from the fierceness of the day’s sun. I rolled on top of it, this natural bed, shifted away to leave room for you. You clambered up, sat legs crossed.
“Orion.” I gestured. I always found him first. And the cache of stories yawned open within me. I talked, I sang, I wove stories, spells. I drew you out and cast you dancing into the sky. You laughed, I smiled, we breathed, created– an array of universes hung newborn in the night.
Sometimes it seemed you heard her cries. Her vocal complaint of the fire within. I called you ever back, pointing to my star. “That one, yes? Is it that one that’s mine?” How little I knew.
I coaxed you down, we lay facing upward, the stars wheeling away in their own private concerns. “It will all spiral on. Life does not stop.” My words arced in the moonlight.
“I know.” How could I suspect the degree of bitterness that lurked within my words, within yours? How could I know it easily measured equal with hope?
At last, we slept. And the southern star stuck in the sky, wavering.
And this is what it means:
You, my sister, red-haired and pixie-framed, sit hoping in the darkness. Candles burn at each cardinal point all around, the circle is cast, the god and goddess invoked. we are blessed and present in a place beyond time.
You are beautiful, you are energy, you are my upsweeping wind. I love the who I am when I am with you. You are my raucous voice, my faux British girl, my fellow touched by Gaia.
You, my sister, voluptuous and temptress-eyed, blaze true in the light. Our incantations are framed and fed by the mysterious equations of deep truths and aching desires. Our hands are joined, our bond forged in a time beyond space.
You are glorious, you are movement, you are my upsweeping wind. I love the who I am when I am with you.
You are my safe haven, my eye-opener, my generous and loving friend.
You, my western stars, create the greatest wholeness I have ever known.
I am everything and nothing: I am the changeable sky. I show the truth, I weave illusions, I harbor delusions and strip away lies.
Once I climbed a mountain beside the sea. I wanted to be closer to the blue in my eyes. I reached the top feeling the pride of accomplishment but could not rest. I found a blue jay and followed him to a precipice. He flew away so I jumped into the sky.
I could not fly and so become a bird. I could not rise and so become a star. But I could fall to become the sea, wash upon the shore, become earth again and rise.
I walked out of the sea. I traced my footsteps on the sand. I stared up as the sun sank beneath the waves and the moon rose high. I saw the first star.
“Star light, star bright…”
I am everything and nothing: I am the changeable sky. I provide the stars their backdrop; my vagaries let them shine. I do not create them. They will shine ever without me.
Once I stranded myself in the heart of a forest. I wanted to find the beating of my heart. I found wolves howling in the night and ran crashing through the gathering dusk. I found a red lake, shining with the fires of the darkening heavens. I stopped, beguiled, heedless of my heart pounding in my ears. I stood still so long that I saw the first star reflected on its face.
“First star I see tonight…”
I am everything and nothing: I am the changeable sky. There are many stars around me in my night.
“Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
There are many stars in my sky, too many to wish upon. Too many not to. I will keep my peace.