by Helen McClory
“Let me down easy into a pit full of stars” she sings, her voice to us a formulation of strain and anguish. Backroom of a meeting hall, us on a semicircular of hardback chairs, fingers weaved over cold knees or other, colder fingers. Spotlight isn’t kind to her face — nor are we, in our hedging thoughts. To pit the stars? We glance at the sheet, turn it over. Vague in dimness. We clap, as required; head down she walks off the light and out the building and into the Dark Sky Park which encompasses our village and a portion of the land surrounding, southerning, where the road becomes rough track skinned with tricksy streams and edges gouged by ditch.
The Summer Triangle, an asterism visible in this hemisphere, is an imaginary triangle, by certain definitions. Its three bright stars are Altair, Deneb, and Vega, each of their own intersecting constellations (Aquila, Cygnus, Lyra), of which we are not concerned now. Every child in this village owns a telescope, knows the heavens for a map of stories. We take trips to the dark to record with grace the dots and lines, the shapes they make. Discuss their numbered histories as intimate with our own. All the singer knows, needs, are these three bare stars, and there they are, above the village lamps downturned for minimal damage to the greater heavens. She’s out by now to the road that bypasses the village, past the sign that says our name, our motto, hurrying from this to the wood-border side.
The wood we’ll say is haunted, not by people, but by people’s emptiness. A daunted close and sprawling blank. She’ll want the wood, then the overlook. Wild bound down in meaningless earth. Too much, we muttered, and her needing telt of the sweetness of far away fires, burning only for us. If her sorrow can get over with, if she makes it back. The woods unlike the sky are unmapped on purpose, like a painful love, love’s withoutness. Or: infinitely black as a closed eye inside night, or a word slipping down a swallowing throat.
There, in the blank wood, she’ll sing ribboning songs to the pain of not meaning, not being right. It’ll get louder, in our beds. She’ll sing her shapeless and unreckonable pain, by scars, black frond dells, territorial scratches, scuff-posts, villainous thickets where shrike for future hunger drape whole stoats on thorns like bloodied scarves. High frequency sounds of leaves dying, tickering the earth. Owls spook, and rabbit, or something like it, screaming. Careless savagery. Smell of wildcat glands. Mushroomed, rotted trunk.
We’ll think we sleep, fitting dreams; we’ll hear her step, the smash of a puddle, the catch in her breath. The track heads south, south west. Will take us passive as children in a dark car, clambering up, over, beyond, gravel and rucked stone, a rising middle trail of grass, no colour so late, showing the age of the route, as if right up to Altair. She’ll ascend, singing. A howl without wolves, loneliness without an object to pull its current to ground.
It’ll charge. They say a purpose will grow a soul even in an uncompromising place. What of us. In the wood, or out, across the high tree break, where the grass will come rushing up to her knees, she’ll sing, she’ll be singing, above our village, turning herself out for us to see the stray lights meaning: parkland, school road, shopping street, house. You want love, it’s the stars, we’d always say, look up. But the singing will get louder, only. In our heads, then in our blood. She’ll get louder, all alone. We’ll feel our village, our selves, cracking and splitting apart, with the calm fuzzing up out of us, our wound, masses of cotton wool, all used up. In place of displaced contentment: the wood, a tangling sadness, mistook, other minds, animal cries, the falsity of constellations, the gaps between of light years having no light at all, all such ways through the bleakness, then the bleakness itself, this gift, sung through. That will crystallise, kill us, lie flat in the ditch of our chests, in every bed: There are some sorrows that aren’t meant to be named, or withstood.
Helen McClory’s first story collection, On the Edges of Vision, won the Saltire First Book of the Year 2015. Her second story collection, Mayhem & Death, was written for the lonely and published in March 2018. The poetry is coming. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart. Find her here.