What shines?

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I’ve had window blinds fitted in my flat today. I moved in six months ago but for some reason known only to the gods of procrastination its taken me this long to get round to it. In the bedroom, it’s a blackout blind as my building has outdoor security lights. I managed to sleep without disturbance for the first couple of months but, after a horrible bout of insomnia later in the year, I took to wearing an eye-mask. All animals naturally are awake and active in daylight hours and sleep when darkness falls. We all need sleep, powerful in its role in regenerating all the systems of the body. Darkness falls like a cosy thick blanket over me when I switch off my bedside lamp. I welcome the dark, feel safe and protected and sleep well.

Yet darkness can also be scary. Outdoors, when darkness falls we are naturally on guard for dangers that may lurk unseen. Walking home late at night many women in particular feel the push of potential threat. It’s something feminists have for decades pushed back at. “Take Back the Night” marches were frequent in the 70s. I went on lots but, in truth, despite feeling outrage at the seeming need for women to curtail their actions to avoid threats at night, I never totally shifted my uneasiness enough to feel confident and safe.

Flip this whole narrative into a pitch black night out on one of the Gulf Islands, off the west coast of British Columbia or up north where wilderness is easier to get inside. Now, darkness comes bearing gifts, pierced by millions, and more, brilliant holes – stars, planets, galaxies, constellations. Under a cloudless night sky I feel not only safe but filled with great comfort. I’ve lain out many summers on the warm earth to gaze up at the Persied meteor showers that occur every August. The black sky, deep as the deepest nothingness suddenly comes alive. As stars go off in rapid-fire shots of brilliance, my eyes become accustomed to the dark and begin to pick up more subtle movement in the glimmer of other stars and planets. I wrote the poem “Purden Lake” years ago after one such night of wonder.

Purden Lake

“…music that will melt the stars.”


If I had been dropped in here, into this small circular clearing, if it had been gouged out with no roads leading in, you’d never find me. I’d be alone at the base of a soundless dry well. I could walk, turn circles around the edges of gravelled earth but there would be no way out.

The only opening: up. Now, it’s gaping black and deep, beginning to break out its intricate pattern of stars. If they were music, the stars would begin inaudibly, build slowly, gather sound as more appeared. Is the music, are the stars constant, and only my attention lacking to perceive them? It takes a while but then I see the long trace, the shining blur that is the Milky Way: crescendo.

I know that some of these stars are dead. What I see is only light, millions of years away from the place where it started, light that long ago disappeared. Perhaps I can pull these from the sky. I could make some space in all that confusion of brightness. Find a way out. But what would I do with so much light? Could I hold it in my arms? Would it liquefy, run through my fingers and into the earth or remain hard-edged silver, prick my skin? What can light weigh?

From Parallel Lines by Pam Galloway: Ekstasis Editions 2006.

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