I cannot remember a time when I could not read the stars. We lived in the outer suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, before it became the giant behemoth it is now, lights and lights for miles around. We didn’t have cable, so at night, my father brought us out into the driveway with his bulky telescope perched on a piano bench, tilted it down to my eye level, and taught me how to catch Saturn in the eyepiece, how to find the Seven Sisters dancing in the inky sky. I came to understand only recently what a gift this was. There is no sky under which I feel lonely. I can still find my old childhood friends, as long as clouds keep away.
When I was in fourth grade, I was a child of the eighties, and when I say I was a child of the eighties, I mean that I was way into the fashion of the times, way more than the average fourth-grader. Neon clothes, side ponytail, piles of bracelets—the works. Did I mention I had bright pink eyeglasses? I was the only Asian American in the class, and from looks alone, Mr. Quass could have easily assumed I had zero interest in learning, but he never did. In fact, he assumed that everyone would be as excited and fired up about science as he was, and if we weren’t, something was wrong with us, not him. I’ll always be grateful to that man, the first (aside from my father) who modeled what it was like to be constantly astonished by the natural world.
Like the mysteries of the deep seas, the skies hold many puzzles. Saturn’s north pole has just changed color from its usual dark periwinkle to a golden hue, bright as a kernel of corn. Whales swim about a million nautical miles during their lifetimes, navigating the seas by starlight and sonar, bouncing clicks off jagged sea cliffs and other whales in their pod. How they spiral and frenzy to find each other in the warmer temperatures of the Azores, nine tiny islands that play host to something like joy. Will this change of planetary hue affect the other stars, how they read back to whale eyes, to us? We won’t know for several generations of whale song and calf-cry, so for now, I’ll keep that whale music close as I write about the devastations and brilliant wonders of the sea.
Celebrate the Silence
epithalamion for Joseph and David
Let us celebrate the silence! For you
will also learn Love by its many silences.
Like walking under an apple tree
and never knowing it was full of dark leopards:
you are here/there, all around me, above me.
You will find every pump of your lungs
tastes so delicious. Learn to love the quiet
of each other: be grateful for the books
you have and have not yet read together.
Be grateful for having mouths that can still kiss
a whole field, meadow, and skyscraper.
Celebrate the quiet ache, the wait, the song,
the psalm, the palm of every hand
you ever held. And if you remember
to celebrate the silence, you will discover
a new language not found in any dictionary,
no translations available for anyone else.
Celebrating the silence will be as easy as it is
to love whatever small light bees bestow
on fallen leaves—easy to love the light they give
just before they crawl into a honey-hungry sleep,
just before the first sweetness of snow.
AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL is author of the forthcoming collection Oceanic, her fourth volume of poetry, and a forthcoming collection of nature essays, World of Wonder. She is poetry editor of Orion and the John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi’s MFA program.