Hidden somewhere in memory—earliest, oldest trace
of objects gradually swimming into consciousness –
dust motes drifting in a shaft of sunlight, or the shock
of coldness in water—of being in some strange house
and handed a clear glass to drink from—
helped by an older person, the two of them holding
the glass, agreeing not to drop it while the child tilts it,
clinking his teeth against the rim, encountering the cold—
and in that same instant glancing around, wondering
if this is the right way, noticing for the first time
faces with foreheads, flowered wallpaper, tree limbs
outside the window waving in the wind—
(yet recollected now, as he listens to a stranger speak),
contained since childhood with these primary things,
an elusive story he had heard—
that from the bottom
of a deep well one could look up and see the stars,
even in daytime. Or that a brick chimney, if only
high enough, afforded the same sort of magical view.
This reported by a playmate, perhaps, or a cousin,
someone already old enough to read, whose authority
could not be questioned.
The story stayed with him
as he entered school—untested at first, half forgotten,
but a recurrent daydream, a lasting puzzlement.
Never had there been occasion to descend to the bottom
of a well, but several times, as a youth, he had crawled
inside an ash-caked furnace, in some abandoned mill
or factory, for a chance to peer up through the chimney,
hoping that somehow it might be so, that a great shaft
of darkness could transform light itself, softening
and absorbing it in some mysterious way.
would be visible and gleaming at the end of that space,
as though seen through the aperture of a telescope
and yet there would be no lens, no distortion, no need
to focus. They would blaze forth with a purity
never witnessed before. But of course none of this
was true. Look up through any tall brick chimney,
all you see is a featureless patch of sky.
Not so, then,
even unsound, having no basis in science or fact—
until now, years later, the myth almost forgotten,
he listens to a man speak of a mountainous country
so far above the sea, the air so pure, that in daytime
you can see the stars. “The stars?” he asks, sensing
an old thirst returning, a lost desire, even a fear—
“How could you see the stars in the daytime?”
so thin, the rest of the world so far away. Stars
of the first magnitude are visible to the naked eye,
scattered across the sky like pebbles.”
“And the sun?”
“Clear, but unapproachable—a half-remembered dream,
a shining that was rich and resplendent once, near
at hand, but now remote. No more a golden visage
but a mask of bronze.”
He realizes that inevitably
he must find a way to visit this far place, he will
book passage on a sailing ship, after a long voyage
they will enter the harbor, he will begin to ascend
the rough-hewn steps, he will walk the cobblestones,
will enter the great palaces of perpetual dusk.
he will encounter the serenity of the shell’s interior,
the dim pearl light spreading through every corridor,
along each windowsill, across the roofs of burnt tile.
Transfixed, he will gaze far across the gaunt, gray hills,
the countryside enclosed by mountains like the shaft
of an invisible well. And in that gathering stillness
will reach out and feel a wind rising all around him,
an unseen curvature, a constantly unfolding whorl
of currents drawn up through the chalice of space.
Everything will be lifted, imperceptibly carried along,
yet nothing will be changed except the light itself.
Even now, at noon, in a place he seems to recognize,
to know already, in his dreams, his longing—there
on the horizon the sun’s disc hangs distant and pale,
without blemish, no longer tentacled with fire; above
the mountain peaks, at the farthest edges of the earth,
the features of the moon have all but ebbed away.
With each step he takes, there is a new awareness—
barely perceptible at first, but gradually accepted,
believed in at last—everywhere, he passes through
movement itself, a shifting twilight, an overflowing
of light and dark—something that was always present
at dusk or daybreak, even in childhood, but takes time
to understand, to adjust to, like the first remembrance
of water, its clear, cold taste—the light of the stars
eddying around him, softly altering, in all directions,
everything he looks upon. Stars in daylight, casting
a myriad of shadows on that rocky, wind-struck world.