Note: I wrote this long before I ever had an actual daughter.
We sit at the fire this night, my daughter and I. She questions the stars with her gaze, and I am the one who must answer her, who must speak for the stars. So I will tell her why she hears voices without human bodies, and how the artists always stand apart from the world.
During the time that I was becoming a woman, I spent many nights like this, looking at the moon and its sparkling sisters. From the dark of lonely sky, a certain star splintered from the rest, and fell dizzily into the fire at which I sat. I closed my eyes against the brilliance that flickered hotly on my face, and watched my tears melt through squinting eyes, entranced by the brightest light I had ever felt. The earth and sky pressed together like lovers, and the horizon sealed from end to end.
This star, she spoke with the intensity of a person about to die, who tries to stop the inevitable flood with a dam of words.
“I want you to know the distant pain I feel, being above you and so separate from everything. Until now, my burning in the sky is the only way you have witnessed my agony. Sometimes one of us becomes so full of longing, the heat is so great, that we are given the power of speech, and the chance to communicate with the beings we watch over everyday. I wish I could be a part of your earth. I see you all jumping and playing and growing and I want to share the pleasures of being human, or animal, or plant. I would love to have a body, and a name, and relationships with other bodies. Imagining isn’t enough. I want to know what it feels like to eat food or to make love.”
“I think I would rather be in your position,” I said, “able to see everything, and not have to be involved. You see so many stories, watch so many lives wither and bloom, and see things from many different points of view. And you really do know everything under the sun.”
“That is true,” admitted the star.
“Perhaps you can tell me about myself.” I asked, “Do you know things about me that even I don’t know?”
“Although I dream of being closer to you,” she said, “if I let my secrets become your own, you will find it harder to be close to your own kind. You will share the curse of distant stars, and be an eternal observer. Already you have this in you. I can tell by your eyes that shine trance-like and sparkling, and by the way your arms fold in front of you when you speak to people. I am afraid I may have already said too much. Let me impart to you one piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to be involved in the world around you, and if you ever find yourself an outcast, find a way to express your pain.”
The star began to sizzle and rise above the flames of my fire. “Wait,” I exclaimed, “How do you express the pain?”
The star did not answer for a long moment, and then said, “We stars burn so feverishly with longing, that together we make pictures in the sky. Some people on your earth, have read our pictures and made their own stories. Everyone sees something new, a different picture, and makes up a different story.”
Distracted by her words, I barely noticed that she had long since left me shivering in the cold of early morning. I looked west of the rising sun, to see if I could discern her from the many pale stars that quivered, each in their own small hole in the sky.
I talked to her many times again, in my head. I learned to love the addictive power of being an observer, and the understanding of things that came from seeing life at a distance. Even now I rarely think of my experiences as being my own. I live my own dreams through others, and tell their stories as if they were my own. I have few friends; most people are afraid to let me know them, afraid their secrets will become my poems, that their souls will be stolen by my paintbrush, their lives rendered and hung up for public view. This is what hurts most, but I cannot let go of the sky.
My daughter, you already know the pain of distance, the burning that comes when you are laughed at for being different, and for having an outcast for a mother, for seeing things in your own way. Some tell you that you are a mad girl, and a mad woman’s daughter. They say that you cannot possibly know what you know, that your insight was gained by trickery. But your eyes twinkle with the promise of fulfillment; and when you have learned to express all you have seen through an artist’s craft, you will grow to be my finest poem.
[Originally published in Jittering Microscope #3, 1991]