Hidden somewhere in memory – earliest, oldest trace
of simple objects gradually swimming into consciousness –
dust motes drifting in a ray of sunlight, or the shock
of coldness in water – of being in some strange house
and handed a clear glass to drink from, yet being helped
by this much older person, the two of them holding it
together, agreeing not to drop it, while he tilts it up,
clinks his teeth against the lip, encountering the cold –
in that same instant somehow glancing round, wondering
if this is the right way, noticing for the first time
faces with foreheads, flowered wallpaper, tree limbs
outside the window waving in the wind – buried, (yet
recollected now, as he listens to a stranger speak),
contained since childhood with these primary things,
an elusive story he had heard – that from the bottom
of a deep well one could look up and see the stars,
even in daytime.  Or that a brick chimney, if only
high enough, afforded the same sort of magical view.
This he heard from a playmate, perhaps, or a cousin,
someone already old enough to read, whose authority
could not be questioned.  The story stayed with him
as he grew older – untested at first, half forgotten,
but a recurrent daydream, a lasting puzzlement.
Never had there been occasion to descend to the bottom
of a well, but several times, as a youth, he had crawled
inside an ash-encrusted furnace, in some abandoned mill
or factory, for a chance to peer up through the chimney –
hoping that somehow it might be true, that a great shaft
of darkness could transform light itself, softening
and absorbing it in some mysterious way.  The stars
would be visible and gleaming at the end of that space –
as though seen through the aperture of a telescope
and yet there would be no lens, no distortion, no
need to focus: they would blaze forth with a purity
never witnessed before.  But of course none of this
made sense.  Look up through any tall brick chimney,
all you see is a tiny patch of sky.  Untrue, then,
even unsound, having no basis in science or fact –
until now, many years later, the myth almost forgotten,
he listens to a man speak of a mountainous country
so far above the sea, the air so pure, that in daytime
you can see the stars.  “The stars?” he asks, sensing
an old thirst returning, a lost desire, even a fear –
“How could you see the stars in the daytime?”  “The air
is so thin, the rest of the world so far away.  Stars
of the first magnitude are visible to the naked eye,
scattered across the sky like pebbles.”  “And the sun?” 
“Clear, but unapproachable – a half-remembered dream,
a shining that was rich and resplendent once, near
at hand, but now seems remote: no more a golden visage
but a mask of bronze.”  He realizes that inevitably
he will find a way to go to this far place, he will
book passage on a sailing ship, after a long voyage
they will enter the harbor, he will begin to ascend
the impossible heights, he will walk the cobblestones,
will enter the great palaces of perpetual dusk.  There
he will encounter the smoothness of the shell’s interior,
the dim pearl light spreading through every corridor,
along each windowsill, across the roofs of burnt tile.
Beyond, he will gaze far across the gaunt, gray hills,
the countryside enclosed by mountains like the shaft
of an invisible well; and in that gathering stillness
will reach out and sense a wind rising all around him,
an unseen curvature, a constantly unfolding whorl
of currents drawn up through that vast chalice of space. 
Everything will be lifted, imperceptibly carried along,
yet nothing will be changed except the light itself.
Even now, at noon, in that place he seems to recognize,
to know already, in his dreams, his longing – there
on the horizon the sun’s disc hangs distant and pale,
without blemish, no longer tentacled with fire; above
the mountain peaks, at the farthest edges of the earth,
the moon never sets, but shines down its tranquil light.
With each step he takes, there is a new awareness –
barely perceptible at first, but gradually accepted,
believed in at last – everywhere, he passes through
movement itself, a shifting twilight, an overflowing
of light and dark – something that was always present,
even at daybreak, even in childhood, but takes time
to see now, to adjust to, like the first remembrance
of water, its cold, clear taste – the light of stars
eddying around him, softly altering, in all directions,
everything he looks upon.  Stars in daylight, casting
a myriad of shadows on that rocky, wind-struck world.

First published in Visions International
Copyright © 1992, Jared Carter

Image Credit: NASA/Emily Gaskin

Jared Carter’s most recent book is Cross this Bridge at a Walk from Wind Publications in Kentucky.  Additional poems and stories may be found on his web site at www.jaredcarter.com.