“I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—”

first star

The rains this month are monsoons. Yesterday, this morning — torrential, so loud on our metal roof that we can’t hear ourselves think. And what would I think about anyway? These days I am heavy with weather, heavy with solitude. I don’t mean that in a negative way particularly. In the past 3 months, I have found my way into interesting history, part of it my own family history, and part of it the wider complexity of how a country treats those it has encouraged to come with promises of land and citizenship and how it fails them. I use the present tense though I am looking at records dating back a century. I use the present tense because I am writing about how individuals navigate, or don’t, the conditions of a pandemic. I feel the solitude my grandmother must have felt as her husband died, then her brother, then her youngest child, still an infant, isolated by her lack of English and her poverty. I am writing that moment and I am in it.

The rain has meant I’ve put some things aside for better weather. I have a basket of fabric prepared for my dye vat but I need a run of good days for that work. Last weekend I woke with an urgent need to make something. I’ve experienced this feeling since my childhood. I remember rushing to the basement where there were scraps of wood and old tobacco tins of nails and trying, trying to think of how to do something with them. Now I rush to the trunk of fabric in our guestroom and the big basket of indigo-dyed sheets and scraps left from a previous vat. I pull out cottons, remnants of other projects, pile them onto the bed, and wait. Sometimes I see relationships. Possibilities. Sometimes it’s something in my own experience I want to explore. I made a quilt and an essay simultaneously last year. I called both “A Dark Path”. I used the fabric as a way to make a physical path to take me through the process of fracturing both my pelvis 50 years ago and my coccyx in late November of 2018.

I woke in the early hours last Saturday morning just in time to see the Strawberry Moon passing my bedroom window, followed by a single star in the dark firs. Last Friday, I’d gone to the ophthalmologist in order to have my eyes checked. When I fractured my coccyx, the impact of falling on ice resulted in some retinal damage. My appointment last Friday was thorough. A technician took images of my inner eyes and when the ophthalmologist met with me a few minutes later, the images were on his computer screen. Here, and here, and here, he pointed. These tears have healed so well! I looked at my eyes, the little scars like buttons, and then he showed me the healthy retinal veins and arteries scribbled over the surfaces. When I stepped back, the images were like planets, heavenly bodies on the screen in the bright room. I held my eyes briefly against the palms of my hands. When I saw the Strawberry Moon passing the window, its surface could have been my eyes, the retinas with their single layer of pigment cells a soft orangey-pink.

Earlier in the week, I realized what I am missing during these days of rain and the nights with more of it, apart from that single night when I saw the moon, are stars. In winter and spring, the stars were spectacular. Some nights when I got up to pee, I’d see planets too, huge in the dark sky. On Tuesday I sketched a plan for a star quilt. I found a length of cotton bought cheaply as the end of a bolt a few years ago and cut out squares from that for the bodies of the stars. I cut scraps of light indigo-dyed cotton for the background of each star. Once I’ve pieced the star blocks, I’ll have to figure out sashing. Deep blue would be good but maybe instead some saffron yellow. I don’t know yet. So much depends on light and mood. I have a dyed sheet to use for the back of the quilt, its edges quite light but a panel of deep indigo down the centre, lighter scribbles where I’d tied it with hemp twine before dipping it in the dye.

It was easier for me to find my way through this fraught and damaged time a month or so ago when the nights were clear and the days bright. Only two weeks ago we were swimming. The dawn chorus was loud and rich. In the rain it’s hard to hear anything but its steady drumming on the blue roof, the splash of it falling from the downspouts. If I want stars, I’m learning I’ll have to make them myself.

I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—
I felt the Columns close—
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres—
I touched the Universe—

–Emily Dickinson, 378


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