Carrie Olivia Adams
Pandora's Star Box
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
—Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
Sometimes I think the sky itself might be one of my fantasies. I've never touched it.
I felt it in the lake. The water lay motionless, silent, waiting. It was patient. And the sky was seduced there. The clouds lied upon the water.I placed my fingertips into them. I touched the verge.
I kept it to myself.
My secrets make me small. I share this with your stars. In their distance, which makes them small, they are secret keepers too. You must think they whisper to each other when you’re not looking. Or even when you are. How could you really tell? That light. They burn their undelivered letters to you. But in this interiority. Of mine. And theirs. There is an opening in. This opening, a unit of measure. A handbook. A handbreadth. A reach.
I opened the box. It was me. There was no lock or key. I just asked, "Shall I?" And the stars fell out.
There was a universe before and after me.
Then, I reclaimed the box.
To explain, I have given the box a window. If it had lungs, one would say it breathed light. To become perceptible; to be expressed; to permit passage; to make manifest. Maybe for all these reasons. It caught a cluster, a bee and a thistle; the spindle of a watch balance. The sun on the tip of a matchstick.
I tell you I would like to put it all back inside. The entire globe and its halo.
I've settled for having the universe both within and outside the box.
You wrote: Number is the within of all things.
I wondered if that was a time coded message.
I have spied over your shoulder, dear Astronomer. I've green eyed the tables and the grids you build. They are my steep edges and skin-rubbed cliff face. You have built a vocabulary in which crisis is the opposite of catastrophe. You mean to tell me that the turning point is not necessarily the final event. I want to listen. I want to believe that the stars are an opening out. This universe, a gift.
I want to.
It's not so vast, I want you to know. When I look out I can trap it between my eyelids.
Clutch the sun as it flickers on dark water.
It's archaic, but curious can simply mean to be made carefully. Is that it? An attentive but solicitous opening? The peaks breaking the line of the sky.
What do you do during the daylight? Do you train your telescope on people across the way? Are you curious at all about earthly perambulations? Do you chart them—map them—trace them from point to point with a protractor in the same way?
I once wrote to you and asked—why do people make love? It was a foolish question, I know. I have no models for understanding.
This box traps and releases desire. There are lots of names for desire, like greed and envy and longing and hope, but they are all desire. It's the same seashore. The same fisherman. The same afternoon that splashes light and fades heavy.
I don't know why this one or that one. But I know desire.
You wrote: geometry is knowledge of the eternally existent.
Astronomer, I know you're curious about fire—
You divide the stars into snow globes and sun shades.
And in between word from you the chattering of my teeth passes as small talk between us.
We both go to the high places. The sudden ones. The serrated ones.
The ones that are the last line that we can find between land and sky.
You are closer. And I am further.
All those gifts squandered, the constellations must think of me. Of us.
Dear Astronomer, you must be versed in death and know that so much is dimming that we cannot see yet. You know that this light that guides us may have already disappeared.
Back inside the box there is no disappearing.
Does it seem strange to you that the stars are a record of earthly feats by heavenly beings? There are 18 moons of Saturn, and I am one of them.
Yet, I am ashamed to still be worrying about the stars burning themselves into darkness. Perhaps it is because everything else has already fallen. I have had a hand in it. No amount of dipping into lakes and seas has drowned that.
I imagined the words of a tattoo: make this vessel my sin. I have carried it across this earth. If not across your sky.
You've sat nightly and watched what I've put forth.
Astronomer, you tell me, there is geometry in the humming of strings.
I've said it is all bird calls echoing in a cave.
You tell me—Make the blue a little more blue.
I've touched it, I tell you. It was all there once. Seduced for a moment and it breathed light.