This month, in addition to the stories from Aotearoa New Zealand for Matariki, we also introduce stories and poems from around the world – to see the night sky and its stars from other views. Thank you to these writers who share their beautiful work here!
A story by Capital Colour* – Iraq
Translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim
I died two minutes ago.
I find myself surrounded by a group of angels and other figures I don’t recognize. I beg them to bring me back to life for my young wife, three months pregnant with our first child. They say nothing.
After a few minutes, an angel carries in something that looks like a TV. He tells me that the timelines in the world I knew are different than those in the afterworld. “Minutes here equal days there.”
When he turns on the monitor, my wife instantly appears, holding a little baby. Joy and nervousness overwhelm me. The images play in fast-forward, changes occurring every minute. My boy grows up fast, and everything steadily alters. My wife buys new furniture and receives my pension. My son starts school, and each of my brothers marry. They all enjoy their lives on the screen before me.
In this whirl of confusing pictures, I notice something still and motionless in the background of every image – a blurred, black shadow. As the years pass on the screen, the shadow grows smaller and fainter.
I call on an angel and beg him to bring this shadow closer, so I can see it better. The kind angel doesn’t just zoom in, he also slows down the scene, so it plays in normal Earth time. For fifteen years, crouching in my place, I watch this shadow cry.
The shadow is my mother.
*Capital colour is an Iraqi writer and illustrator. She wanted to keep her identity unknown
I live in Hofuf, which is the major urban center in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It’s an oasis surrounded by huge patches of green date palm trees. Alongside these natural beauties, the city also has a clear, transparent sky view. At night, the sky is filled with wonders, and you only have to leave your house and look up to see stars, planets, the moon and so much more. I do not know the names of the stars and constellations; all I can observe are celestial objects, heavenly shining bodies, and the amazing glowing swath across the sky that makes me yearn to someday fly off into the wide blue yonder. Our ancestors used stars to mark locations by tracing out the paths of different constellations. In the summer, during extremely hot weather, sand and dust storms usually occur, and strong winds stir large amounts of sand and dust from dry soils into the atmosphere. At such times, constellations are hardly recognizable as orientations that lead people to the right path.
I strongly believe that this deep view of the sky instantly affects the writer’s faculty. It was under bright stars, planets, and the moon, which were visible in a clear, tranquil sky, that a friend of mine handed me ‘The Shadow’, written by an anonymous Iraqi writer. It was a quick read, as well as an instant translation. I loved this piece and wanted others to be able to share the thrilling pleasure of reading it in another tongue. I hope you enjoy reading this short piece as much as I have enjoyed reading and translating it.
Cluster of Stars
A poem by Soma Bose – Kolkata, West Bengal, India
That night, he walked along the lake. Every year,
on this particular day he could not stop himself
to lift his eyes to meet his late mother’s eyes,
that was cluster of stars.
It was a beautiful night. He sat on a bench and
glanced up. He saw the stars amidst long blue
sky. His mother’s soul could rest in a place like
this, he thought.
Gradually dark cloud pitched a layer on sky.
He wanted to crush the clouds into pieces
and pull them down, like someone had co-
vered his mother’s eyes with a black lid.
His mother said the last words: “l will never
let you be alone…If I die…do not cry anymore…
Just stare at the stars…You can see my eyes.”
Whenever he looked at stars, they gave him
a hollow look and no recognition at all of his
mother’s eyes. But his mother’s last words
and his imagination were as if his mother
was sagging to cling his cheeks amidst the
stars. He felt watched by his mother’s eyes.
Sitting beneath the dark clouds was shocking
And then a small miracle. He sketched his
mother’s eyes with a glitter pen on a paper.
Few rain drops fell on it and they sparkled
It was Matariki. And a barely veiled
hope to have a glimpse of his mother’s eyes
I lost my mother at very early age. As our ancestors said to make a belief within my mind: “Whenever you want to feel your mother then look out and stare at stars.”
Plough in the Well Water
A story by James Claffey – California, US
Love is a flood of moon, the sprinkle of stardust captured on the nape of a bat’s neck as it swoops across the tops of the sycamore trees on a clear summer’s night. These are the fallow times before the sky fills with rain, the cart paths clog with mud, and the rippled outline of the starry Plough shines in the depths of the shallow puddles in the backyard. I miss the silver flecks in your hair, the twin dimples of your smile. Will you be mine when you return, or will time have taken from you the ability to unbutton and uncover the map of your skin, the contour lines and elevations, the serried lines of ribcage, the smooth promontory of your furrowed brow?
Lately, we’ve been blessed by open skies, clear air, few airplanes at all, and the comet, Neowise, in the northwest sky. Unfortunately, our view of the comet is disrupted by the low foothills of Southern California, and below the horizon line. This means we’ll be taking a nighttime drive up nearby Gibraltar Road, rising to the crest (a popular route with weekend cyclists), to see the comet on the far side, as it fizzes by on its 6,800 year-round trip.
Wait for the Next Rain
A story by Mehreen Ahmed – Bangladesh/Australia
Darkness crept in. Rain poured. I ran outside. I wanted to be with rain. No, wait, I wanted to rain-dance a tango. Night had fallen. Waters gushed. It whispered to make inroads into my soul. I opened up to it. I found my knight. He rode up in silver tresses and translucent shinning armour. I embraced him. We kissed. My luscious lips, my satin face, my glassy eyes and my wavering hair. He soaked me up in his wet embrace. He dripped down my wild hair. I closed my eyes and let it woo. The rain; it stopped. The dance stopped. The romance stopped.
I came indoors in a brooding mix; I broke down in tears. I waited for the next rain. I awaited him.
Wait. Did I just find God in the rain? My knight, all dispersed. Oxygen, Nitrogen,Carbon, gathered and made us, humans? Fascinating, the rainbow colours. All the eye could see was us; God. He? Dispersed? We, humans, the God gatherers, our skin was an outfit. Unzip the outfit, see the gatherings; all the Godly elements that the naked eye wished to see. Yet, each time we were born, we broke away from the stars and created our own. Each time we died, the stars died with us to rise anew; Helium, Oxygen, Nitrogen; all the droplets of the rainbow colours; transcendental idealism. God, the unbroken thread of life holds us, puppets on this eternal cosmic string.
I have been a star gazer ever since I was small. I used to wonder about constellations and their roles in our lives. Steven Hawking’s discoveries have greatly influenced my belief in the cosmos and the origin of life. I even wrote a story called The Buraq published on Piker Press on the Big Crunch. The rain is most important in all this, as it showers the essential building blocks from the stars into our food chain. The rain is our knight in shining armour.
New Year’s Eve
A poem by S Hidalgo – Madrid, Spain
It’s a ball,
summer fish in the boat’s spring.
I’m startled to hear
someone from my country:
he’s reading in the frog’s language
the one of the sad countenance,
like Borges did,
except this one
goes one step further
than the never Nobel winning
Buenos Aires writer
and ensures he did the same
with Amadis de Gaula;
he’s on chapter forty-nine,
on what happened to Sancho Panza
wandering around his island.
I try to find someone I know,
I look in front of me,
Easton Ellis is lying
on the couch
dressed up as Jesus Christ,
the author of American Pscyho
looks here to be 33,
giving away winks
pretending to blink
behind an enormous white sheet,
they ask him mike in hand:
-Who are your favorite three writers-,
and he answers,
icy, emphatic, solemn:
-Easton Ellis, Easton Ellis & Easton Ellis.
I need and order a gin-tonic
-G’Vine, fever, twist of lime and tonka beans-;
on the house tequila shot too,
so we carry out the liturgy of the moment:
salt on the back of your hand,
lick up the salt,
tequila in one swig
and lemon slice for dessert:
shining in your guts.
“If you want the stars, I´ll overturn the sky.”
A poem by Charlotte Hamrick – New Orleans, US
Voices fall from the night sky, a chorale
of invisible comets disguised as bone and wax,
splashing over the landscape,hopeful
as sleeping seeds wind blown into creation’s chaos,
peering with eyes balanced between luck
and inevitability. Nursing a tender center
desperate for escape, it flings itself outward,
buoyant for one more day.
If you listen it becomes a song,
joyful as a fresh-cracked day,
bare fingers reaching for gold,
shining in starlight, a flurry of genius.
The closer it gets, the further it flies –
sweat til it’s done,
til the cosmos opens wide its arms.
(previously published in MORIA, 2019)
I grew up in the country where I could see stars for miles – something I took for granted. Now that I’ve lived in the city for many years I appreciate the vastness and beauty of the night sky like I never did then. When I walk the dogs at night, I always look for the reddish light of Mars and for the one extra bright star just below the moon. I only see a slice of sky now but it feels intimate and special and I never take it for granted.
Forever Chased by Orion
A story by Riham Adley – Giza, Egypt
Under the cover of nights lit by ghost lights of a dying dwarf star, I had a longing, a panic-driven craving. I wanted to lose it – that thing forced on you when you’re alone in a marriage for so long, that thing that made you sleep-walk in circles in broad daylight.
Run, run, run, I used to tell myself whenever my therapist stressed on the importance of living in the NOW. I met him while running, and ever since, our rendezvous point was always the same: the park bench with carved initials under the Pleiades star cluster forever chased by Orion. We’d sit, bare feet pressed into the earth, and I’d imagine him saying silly things like: Rosie, you’re the only star in my universe.
“You see, it was never about love or the absence of it with Tom.” I try to sound wise while lying to myself and to my therapist.
On several occasions when I felt smaller, bluer, and missing the husband I ran away from, I’d try to kiss my therapist’s resistant lips, and when he refused me like my husband did, I felt that churning panic-stricken longing to run away so far, so far, again and again and again all the way to that dying white dwarf.
“Rosie. You are NOT the only star in this universe.” He said to me once, before showing me a book about supernovas with Rumi quotes, like it was some proof, but real proof came when his eyes poured into mine and were no longer eyes, but a crisscross of mosaic mirrors revealing the fractured self only the child inside me recognized.
Run, run, run.
But I don’t, and we spend another night on the park bench under the Pleiades cluster.
As above is down below. I believe in this, and when I’m very lost I take to the skies as my refuge. As a writer of color with chronic health issues I live with panic on a daily basis. And when things get rough I turn my eyesight upwards to the heavens and study the stars and the planets and the entire macrocosm where I’m no bigger than a spec or even less. The idea of running pulsating in my piece is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s like the Pleiades sisters running from Orion even after Zues immortalized them by placing them in the sky. I’m not the only star in the Universe, I often tell myself that and I really don’t want to be, but it always feels good to be someone’s sun, someone’s light, right? it’s nice to be a star at all, even if a dying white dwarf with fading light. I guess that’s what chronic illness can do to a creative individual like myself.
I Know the Constellations
A story by Marjory Woodfield – Aotearoa New Zealand and Saudi Arabia
My father taught me their names. Orion the hunter. His jewelled belt, three bright stars close together. The easiest to find, my father said. Behind Orion, Sirius. The twins, Castor and Pollux. He bent down. Pointed. Told me stories.
We take the narrow road through the desert, turn towards Elephant Rock. Watch the colours fade from gold, pass round small crescent-shaped biscuits. Tonight there is no moon, the desert quiet, each breath a whisper. The brightness of planets. Jupiter, Saturn, Venus. Milky Way. Orion, Cassiopeia. Falling stars so close I could reach out, cup one in my hand, and run to my father with unfurling fingers crying, “See what I have brought you.”
First published: Bath Ad Hoc Fiction Winner: January 2018
In Saudi Arabia I taught at an International School. I can still remember the morning one of my students burst into the classroom. He’d been away for the weekend, camping in the desert. “ I saw the stars, Mrs. Woodfield,” he exclaimed, “and they were this close.” He held his hands barely a metre apart. Such excitement. And he was right. In the desert, the night sky is remarkable. There’s no pollution, no habitation. The sky is black, stars crystal clear.
‘I Know the Constellations’ is about the desert night sky, in the context of remembering a father who first taught me to love the stars.