And so it is, the boat has come to own you,
has learned to speak a language you cannot help
but agree with, its voice the dark lapping
of water against the hull, its song the wind
in the stays while you sleep, dreaming of a bowsprit
to hold you against the waves
Archives for July 2012
The King in Winter | By Michael Cohen
“It doesn’t look much like a teapot to me,” said my wife as we stood gazing at the constellation of Sagittarius low in Tucson’s southern sky. “And it certainly doesn’t look like an archer. I think it looks sort of like a golfer with one foot in a sand trap.”
I couldn’t see the golfer, but I certainly saw the problem. Few of the constellations look much like they are “supposed” to—that is, as the Greeks and Romans saw them and named them. Leo is a spectacular exception, with its curve of stars arching up from Algieba and defining the maned head of the lion and its hindquarters the triangle of stars ending in Denebola on the trailing or eastward side. Cygnus looks enough like a swan to be plausible, if you can make out the faint double star Albireo marking its head. And Aquila, with a little imagination, can be made to seem like an eagle flying by Cygnus on an opposite course along the Milky Way. When you can see the whole of Scorpius—which is rare above 35° of latitude—it does bear some resemblance to a scorpion, but Draco looks more like a snake than a dragon, and the Ursas, major and minor, are not, let’s face it, very ursine in shape. The arbitrariness of the shapes people have seen in the stars is perhaps best illustrated by the part of Ursa Major that Americans see as a big dipper and Europeans see as a plow.
H. A. Rey’s 1952 book The Stars: A New Way to See Them introduced a simplified way of connecting the major stars in each constellation that was so effective it has been adopted by many star guides, including Sky & Telescope’s monthly Sky Chart and the magazine’s illustrated observing articles. But aside from the stick figures of the Twins and Virgo and the ones already mentioned, Rey’s diagrams don’t really animate constellation shapes. The connected stars show relatively abstract shapes in the sky. The observer still has to provide the imagination.
My son Dan did that for me one winter night when we were looking at Orion. “I don’t know how people see a hunter there,” he said. “It seems obvious to me what pattern those stars make,” he said, striking a pose with his right arm high in the air, left hand off to the side, hips tilted and knees flexed. “It’s Elvis!” I said. “How could I have missed it before?” Perhaps the fact that Dan makes his living as a guitarist and songwriter affects the way he looks at the stars, but I know I’ll never see that constellation the same way again. The next time you’re out in the winter dark, on a clear night, look for Elvis, his tilted pelvis accented by a rhinestone belt, Betelgeuse providing a red “ON” light in the microphone he’s holding in his right hand.
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Michael Cohen writes personal essays that have appeared in NER, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife Katharine on the Blood River in Kentucky when they are not in the Tucson Mountains. He has a website and a blog.
Sherlock Holmes: great detective, iconic literary creation… and Twitter phenomenon?
Prompted by the sensation of the #IBelieveInSherlockHolmes hashtag, Jeanette Laredo investigates the Sherlockian world and the ways in which the cannon invites readers and viewers deeper inside its mysteries. How did a Victorian text create a perfect environment for fandoms both before and after the advent of digital media? More controversially, this cosmos changes the stakes of fan culture for academia:
Like Watson, we desire access to the potential fictional worlds contained in Sherlock’s early case files. The writings of The Baker Street Journal as fan fiction pull at the red tape that binds the untold cases of the great detective. As fan fiction they reify a connection to the fictional world by making the reader/fan an active participant in creating that world.
Read more at the Journal of Victorian Culture Online.
From Benjamin Ehrlich’s translation of Café Chats by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, in the current issue:
Glory is nothing but delayed oblivion. . . .
. . . In the effort to defend ourselves against attacking microbes and perpetuate our existence, millions of our own cells (such as glandular, blood, and phagocytic corpuscles) must be destroyed continuously. Without noticing it, without even suspecting it, we are consuming our own bodies. . . . Thus, nothing seems more natural than death, given that we kill ourselves regularly. Yet, nevertheless . . .
Man, it has been said, is the favorite of Providence. It would be equally right to declare that he is the darling of microbes. Beginning at birth, his trajectory proves to be a mad dash across a battlefield, where missiles rain down from the sky. . . .