604: The Extravagant Stars
604: The Extravagant Stars
I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
Today’s long and stunning poem is a meditation on finding a little light when light doesn’t seem possible.
The Extravagant Stars
by Nicole Callihan
Everybody says the stars are dead.
By the time the light reaches us blah blah blah.
As if the light itself is not enough—
Or maybe everybody says most stars are dead? Or some of the people say all the stars are dead, and all of the people say some of the stars are dead.
Is the sun dead?
I don’t know. I can’t remember.
1 in 2 women can’t remember 1 in 2 things.
I have all these “facts” in my “head.”
These “claims” about the “world.”
Caterpillars, supernovas, the days getting shorter, longer again.
The riverbed. Our great confluence.
The buzz of that particular fly.
Did you ever get my postcard from Mexico?
Mostly, I write the same word over and over, and mostly that word is light.
I keep saying, it seems very unlikely that this will kill me.
But why unlikely?
Medically speaking, you have a 1 in 500 chance of being born with 11 fingers or toes.
I had a student once without thumbs.
I wanted him to write a poem about it.
He used his hands like lobster claws; he made me so sad. Or I was so sad, and he reminded me of my sadness.
He didn’t want to write about his thumbs, he said. Okay, I said.
Probably he wrote about outer space.
Some years after that, I had a terrible late-term miscarriage and had to go to a terrible late-term abortion clinic with terrible, terrible lighting. Afterwards, they gave me a rootbeer-flavored lollipop. I sat in a blue chair and sucked on my lollipop. I was an old woman and a little girl. I cried audibly. I was in my prime.
1 in 4 women this. 1 in 8 women that. 1 in 15 women thisandthat.
And yet, the death rate of stars is only one about every 10,000 years or so.
Meaning, the naked eye will probably never see a dead star. You’re looking into the past, yes, but it’s unlikely, though not impossible, you’re seeing a dead star.
Looking into the past is like sticking your thumb in the dirt of a Dixie Cup.
But a high-powered telescope changes everything.
I think what I’m saying is: I’d rather live than not live.
When I was writing about my terrible late-term miscarriage, I gave a reading on the upper eastside. Afterwards, several women came up to me to tell me I was brave. So brave, they said.
I didn’t want to be brave; I wanted to be brilliant.
In hindsight, this strikes me as incredibly dim-witted.
1 in 1 women will look back on something and feel foolish.
Now, I will take brave any day.
I will take brave and fold it into my little kerchief and tie it to my stick and carry it to the top of the highest hill I can find, and when I get there, I’ll rest my tired legs, unwrap my little hunk of pie from its wax paper, and stare up at the brilliant, extravagant stars, knowing that they are not dead, not even one of them, not dead at all, but living, pulsing, pressing their light as far as it can reach.
"The Extravagant Stars" by Nicole Callihan. Used by permisison of the poet.