‘Pleiades for a New Generation’, Kathryn Allan

Illustration © 2020 Grace P. Fong



 [ Pleiades, © 2020, Grace P. Fong ] i

She is turning into starlight. Her body is fractured into dust (not dust). Her mind—or whatever part that thinks me and I—is focused on her dispersal into the deep blackness of space.

No stars (except for her). No bright lights flashing a way home (there was never a home). Only a breath caught between heartbeats. The too tight chest. A place beyond. Indifferent to intelligences and emotions and bodies. Here. Cold. Free.


ii

I don’t talk about my past. As crappy childhoods go, there are many much worse. My memories are difficult to hold on to. I can look back at who I was and forget what I am now. I once met a woman who told me that all I needed to do to get my head on straight was a long rest at home. For her ignorance, I smiled in her face and walked quickly away. What does it mean to go home? I can never go home because there was never a place that fit the description. Home was always somewhere in other people’s lives. A place of comfort for other children, good children. Home is the place that I am constantly travelling towards. I like to think that I am home now, in this skin, but it doesn’t feel exactly right. I look up. I move forward. Steps on stones. Click click click.


iii

I remember the first time I split. I was twelve. It happened in the kitchen with my mother while we were doing up the supper dishes. It was dark outside, and the window was black, reflecting us back to ourselves. My mother said, “Your father was a poet. Yeah. He wrote poetry all the time when he was young.”

My mother tells me my father—my beer swilling, bar brawling, tyrant of a man father—is not who he is. Just like that as if it was no big deal. As if the world didn’t crack apart and fall to pieces under my feet. As if my father could still be thought of as my father. As if writing poetry was something that you could do and have someone talk about it in the kitchen on a regular weekend night but in a sort of off-hand way like how, after too many glasses of red wine at Thanksgiving, your grandmother might say, “Hey, remember when Larry was caught kissing that Timmy Rollins—such a nice boy—from the down the street when he was, what, 18? 19? I think he married Ruth the year after.” And everyone bugs their eyes and clears their throats and tries to put the image of Larry and his teenage boyfriend out of their minds because, for fuck’s sake, Ruth’s sitting right across the table from you and it’s awkward. But in those kinds of moments someone will crack a quick joke about the gravy boat sailing its way to delicious town and you laugh. You all laugh. And Ruth’s red cheeks slowly fade away as the conversation turns to politics or sports and god bless his soul because everyone knows Larry is a big ol’ queer and only bigots care about that sort of thing anyways.

No. This moment in the kitchen wasn’t like that. My mother’s comment rent the fabric of existence and I saw for the first time how something, somebody, can be two things at once. And if two is real for one, then maybe there were no whole things anymore. Maybe there are only lies that when looked at from an angle, from your own particular tilt of perspective, look solid and certain until one day, one random second of your life, you see the multitude of what’s actually there. How could I ever simply be static, hanging complete and calm forever? Not possible. I cracked, fractured, divided, and it was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Because I was moving forward. For the first time in my life, I knew, I experienced, what it means to progress, to change, to become. My father was not my father. Yes. If it was possible for one, then it was possible for another. It was possible for me.


iv

I struggle to calm my mind enough to doze more than a few hours at a time. When I do sleep, it comes in unsatisfying spurts, disrupted by incessant dreams (please change the channel). It makes my body hurt. Lately, I have been dreaming about babies. Tiny little babies. I either give painless birth to them or find them scattered about the corners of my room. The babies are so small, barely more than miniature dolls. Sometimes I lose them in the cracks of the couch. Other times they slip through my fingers and are lost in the air. But my last dream was new. This time I didn’t misplace the babies. This time I fed them and remembered where I put them down. And the babies grew and grew and grew, straining to eat me up with their insatiable hunger. And then I was inside them, all of them, all at once. The babies were universes, squeezing me with their always outward expansion until my end was indistinguishable from their beginnings.

In one place, I am a child. In another place, I am a star.


v

Once I woke in darkness and was afraid. The small light at the far corner of my bed that kept the night from consuming me was not there. I cried out for help. None came. I knew I wasn’t alone in the house they tell me is home because I could hear the voices of the people called my parents. They thought I was sleeping and so do not hold back the angry words they hiss at one another. Listening to their loathing in such blackness made my stomach tighten and churn. I wanted to run out of my room and tell them to stop but fear kept me still. I could do nothing but lie there, cowering in the dark under my bed covers. In my memory I am so small. I’m worried I’ll tumble down the gap between the mattress and the wall never to be seen again. There is no safety to be found anywhere except inside of myself. I squish my eyes closed as tight as I can make them, pushing my eyelids together with my hands, palms flat against the sockets to keep them locked shut. I play a game called Television Channel where I imagine I can change what’s going on around me. I try to focus my mind on anything other than the dark and the yelling.

I am a receptor. I am radio waves. I open myself up to something unnamed and everything else falls away.


vi

I’ve been dreaming of my sister. She’s been lost for so long that when I think of her face I see only the girl I knew. My sister is secret. She is the shame that my parents will not speak of. But I do. I tell anyone I meet about my sister. She is a person that exists. Someone I had. This is a truth that strangers can hear but cannot be spoken in the place called home. My mother cannot bear the weight of her absence and so prefers to ignore it. “Just us girls,” she’d say, pulling us close to her sides, my sister reaching across her back to pinch me. Three years older, she was my protector. Better for her to make me cry then let others get the chance. She tried to harden me to the future (it’s not bright, it’s dark, don’t cry). Then she disappeared forever. My sister is a distant star, I think. So far away that galaxies stretch between us. At least this is the lie I tell myself.


vii

If I could get some sleep I think I’d be okay. The past memories are stacked like stones in an ancient wall. Click click click along the path of my life. I don’t remember feeling this fractured before, this uncertain. The barriers I’ve so carefully erected between my pasts and the present are snapping together, becoming one indistinguishable burst of time. Continuity is terrifying. How can I possibly be all of my experiences, all of my selves at once? I’m used to breaking apart from the sharp and damaging (and the good and the kind) of everything that came before. I’m a multitude yearning for home. I’m moving past the dust of childhood, the rough gravel of adolescence. I am collapsing and remembering. Home. Home is the where the heart is. Click click click.

I doubt my memories. The present is in pieces, in two, three, five, seven. The self moves over and under and through as it always has but the call to lose the here and now is stronger, bigger, deeper. I am lost. No. I am here. I am now. I am always already now. No. The split. Remember the first split. I contain the many lives that went before. Yes. My sister. Starlight.

I was in the kitchen with my mother and it was night outside. The dark windows reflected us back to ourselves. My mother told me about my father who was a poet. No. There. See? Not a poet. Never a poet. A tyrant. A drunk.

And I smiled back at her, whole and happy. I shone.


© 2020, Kathryn Allan

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