Prowling Heaven’s Alleyways

Comet Lulin, November 20, 2009  ~ Photograph, Paolo Candy

 

When the Texas Flash Dude provided an update on the travels of Comet Neowise through our skies, my first thought was, “Can I see it?” Theoretically, the answer was ‘yes.” Unfortunately, viewing conditions in my part of the world haven’t been the best, but, with luck and borrowed high-powered binoculars, I hope to find it later this month.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the last comet I watched: Lulin, a colorful beauty which appeared in 2009. Visible to the naked eye, it drew me outdoors well past midnight to watch from my parking lot. I thought myself alone, until a stray cat I’d befriended came to check on me, and brought me a poem in the process. Cats and comets, it seems, have a few things in common.

 

Watching Lulin

Green-eyed,
aloof,
prowling heaven’s alleyways
with unexpected  grace,
you take your ease on Saturn’s stoop
then roam again in darkness:
an elegant, celestial stray hungry for attention.
Prone beneath your pathway,
curbstone-pillowed, concrete-bound,
I squint to see your tail —
limned in hand-drawn charts —
then trace your route through time
until I feel a tug
and hear the tiny, worried voice.
An earthbound stray has found her friend,
her source of food
and solace,
no longer rising tall against the sky but flattened to the ground,
eyes turned upward,
head inclined as though the victim of a fall.
Green eyes wide,
she nudges hard against my pillowed head,
pushing back dismissive hands.
Importunate,
insistent,
biting and tugging as though to pull me upright by my hair,
she seeks to right her realm
in a universe gone mad.
Leaving the comet to its flight,
I offer consolation to this nearer, living world.
“Look up,”  I murmur,
running fingers through the fur that sparks
and shines like starlight in her eyes.
“A thousand years are passing.
A thousand years have passed.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

125 thoughts on “Prowling Heaven’s Alleyways

  1. I’ve been thinking about Neowise, too and hoping I can catch it. I think it’s a rise early sort of thing, but if I find good dates and times, I’ll try to see it. Comets are exciting. And I like your poem, too, especially that last stanza and how it explodes time.

    1. It has been an early morning sight, but it’s transitioning now, and will be visible in the evening later this week; July 23 is its closest approach, although it will be a little higher in the sky the 24th and 25th. I hope you get to see it. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, and I’m glad I managed to capture the experience with the stray (named Calliope) in words.

      1. Thanks, Liz. I’m on Twitter, in a manner of speaking, but use it primarily to keep up with local news and weather conditions. I’ve got all the opportunities for ‘engagement’ I can handle right here!

        1. Yes, the sharing function gave me your twitter handle but I checked and realised you weren’t much active on there so deleted the reference. I have a small group of followers and a couple of them have ‘liked’ the tweet – a NZer and a Scottish poet so at least it was noticed.

    1. I certainly enjoyed the experience: not only seeing the comet, which was beautiful, but also realizing that the bond with the little stray was deeper than I realized. When I began the poem, I was intending to write only about the feline stray, but then the metaphor presented itself. There was nothing to do but expand it.

  2. A grand poem to illustrate the limits of living things. I can almost feel the cat trying to pull you back to her old normal from your strange upside down world.

    1. She was unbelievably insistent, especially in the way she pulled on my hair. She never was a vocal kitty, but she was a feline equivalent of a worried Elsa that night.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. It was a wonderful experience. It’s a shame that Calliope won’t be with me to watch Neowise if I’m allowed that opportunity; she fell victim to disease some years ago, as strays often do. At least a kindly vet and I were able to ease her passing.

    1. That’s right. Maybe those ‘streets of gold’ people sing about are in the heavenly suburbs, while the alleyways are in the city. Or, even better, maybe I pulled the alleyways of my grandparents’ rural small town into consciousness.

    1. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it. Especially when we’re all feeling rather stuck to the ground, it’s good to look up now and then, and see the larger picture.

  3. You always wow me with your writing talent. This post is no different. Please tell my that cat found a happy ending.

    1. I suppose she did, in a sense. She was in terrible shape when she wandered into my life, and I improved her health somewhat with an initial trip to the vet, good food, and flea medications. She couldn’t become a house kitty because of Dixie Rose, who was significantly intolerant and set-in-her-ways. Eventually, Calliope became obviously ill, and the decision was made to end her equally obvious suffering. While that’s not exactly a happy ending, it isn’t the worst one in the world, either.

    1. Certain financial advisors advertise by asking, “Will your money last as long as you do?” I never expected to be wondering if my country will last as long as I do. Watch for ducking stools to appear in town squares, and courts to allow ‘spectral evidence’ any time now.

      Looking up to the stars and down to the flowers isn’t a bad defense.

  4. Beautiful poem. So full of analogies regarding our earthbound existence with the unfathomable matter of time, as seen through a comet and a cat, seeming an eternity, but only treasuring the moment.

    1. I love the juxtaposition. When I think about it, the phrase ‘time and eternity’ makes sense in a new way. I’m reminded again of John Muir’s remark that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

  5. It is an evocative, beautiful poem, Linda, filled with imagery. The unfathomable vastness of space is contrasted so well with the familiar comforts of earth represented by the cat.

    1. Thank you, David. Sometimes worlds collide, but sometimes worlds can meet in comfortable, life-giving ways, as they did that night. It’s a wonderful memory, and I’m glad I was able to give it form in words.

    1. When I re-read the poem now, I think of Blake’s lines:

      To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour.

      I suspect he might have seen a world in a cat/comet combination, had he experienced it.

  6. An excellent effort, born from one night of star-gazing? It’s wonderful what the solitude of the night sky can help to produce and a cat prowling the empty spaces of the universe can inspire.

    There is here emerging an image of you which goes deep and leaves the portrait of an admirable human soul behind. Stay as you are, pandemic or not.

    1. We take our inspiration where we can, Friko. It is true that solitude — and especially solitude at night — can evoke a good bit: everything from memories to poems. When the silence of the night becomes a companionable silence, that’s even better.

      As for the pandemic? I have my ways of coping, all designed to keep me from being re-shaped in ways I’d prefer to avoid. Prudent caution is one thing; hysteria quite another. Far too much of the ‘news’ coverage and discussion has become tendentious and boring. I’d rather watch the stars and listen to the night birds.

  7. Your comparison of a cat to a comet is now my second most favorite poetic alliteration, behind Carl Sandburg’s comparison to Fog. Love it. btw: cats and comets must often be in conjunction, because when I was photographing Neowise the other morning, one of our strays that we feed, one we call “Spooky,” was laying in the dark near my feet watching the proceedings and “spooked” me when I turned to go inside. She had slipped in on little cat feet.

    1. And the little stray who kept me company was called Calliope. I chose the name because she was such a vocal kitty, and the name in Greek means ‘beautiful voice.” Only later did I remember that Calliope also was a Muse: particularly, the Muse of epic poetry. Every time I think of that now, I laugh.

    1. At least you don’t have a ship channel and a huge petro-chemical industry to contend with. Later this month, when Neowise’s position in the skies shifts a bit, light pollution will be less of a problem, and I think my chances will be better. It’s a shame that our local observatory is closed — for renovations, rather than because of the pandemic. If it were open, it would be the perfect spot for viewing.

        1. I suspect there are several, but to be honest, even if the observatory were open, I’m not sure I’d go there, simply because I’m avoiding large groups of people, and the chance to use a fine telescope to see a comet would attract a large group.

    1. There’s something about comets that’s deeply appealing. Just the thought that Neowise won’t be around for another 7,000 years or so is amazing. I hope another one shows up before that, since I doubt that I’ll be here for Neowise.

      I did love that kitty. I wished she could have moved indoors with me, but my calico, Dixie Rose, never would have allowed it. Dixie’s full name and title was “Dixie Rose: Feline Supreme and Queen of All She Surveys.”

  8. Lovely, Linda! I, too, hope to catch a glimpse of this comet. I suspect much will depend on weather conditions. As for the stray, I’m sorry she’s no longer part of your life. Most of us do better with something furry to accompany us on the journey (can you tell I still miss Dallas??). Perhaps it’s not mere coincidence she came along when she did?

    1. I don’t know about coincidence, but it’s a fact that her name was Calliope — a name I gave her because she always was ‘singing,’ and Calliope means ‘beautiful voice.’ Only later did I realize that Calliope also was a Muse of poetry. Odd.

      On an entirely different subject, I learned something interesting this morning, and thought of you at the time. It seems that there were a hundred or so men born in Ireland with Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. How about that?

      1. Not surprising, my friend. As you know, Irish immigrants contributed greatly to the development of this country! And some of them were quite likely eager to pick up guns and fight anybody over anything, ha!

    1. Thank you, Pete. I do enjoy wandering off from time to time — usually to some spot on earth, but not always. The constellations are fun, but a comet is special.

  9. I like the juxtaposition of time, cometary time versus kitty time. (our tyop for the day, “justaposition”) Comets are supposed to be portents. Was this one portentous, which is to say, was that stray kitty perhaps Miss Dixie Rose?

    1. No, this kitty was a slightly scroungy but still attractive black and white that I named Calliope. She had a comfy place to nap by the front door, and that’s where she dined. I left water out for her, but not food — she had to show up at breakfast and dinner to get that, bcause of the raccoons and possums.

      Now, you’re going to have to explain ‘tyop.’ I’ve found multiple meanings, including “a fun reference to typos, intentional or not” — sort of like that old bumper sticker that urged, “Dyslexics Untie.” But I’m not sure. Confirmation needed!

      1. It was a term the author Elizabeth Bear used. It is essentially a typo of “typo.” She used to post her “tyop of the day” on her blog.

    1. Now I’m imagining a poetry-on-demand shop where people could purchase verse for ‘occasions’ like birthdays or graduations. I could call it “Juxtapositions-R-Us.” That’s one reason it’s so important to look at experiences with the same sharp eye we used to look at birds or flowers; there always are details and connections that could otherwise be overlooked.

  10. Too many lights here in Austin; we’d have to travel somewhere darker. But I like your post and the cats-n-comets comparison. I’d never thought of them having so much in common.

    1. Neither had I, Tina. As a matter of fact, the word ‘comet’ means ‘long-haired’ — it’s a reference to the tails that stream out from them. The cat who joined me was relatively long-haired and she certainly had a tail, so there are a couple more similarities to ponder.

  11. Lovely, lovely! Comets and cats, and I love the way you speak of their tug. Here is another example of the macro and micro both exhibiting the mystery of the cosmos. Cosmos, comets and cats. What could be better? Also, I did not know of this Neowise, and so am glad to be apprised. Thanks!

    1. I hope you do have clear skies, and can see Neowise later this month when it begins putting on an evening show. Even without a cat companion, it ought to be well worth the effort to seek it out. I like the poem as it is, but it has occurred to me that both cats and comets have tails: another wonderful similarity. The images of Neowise are spectacular. I think even some astronomers were surprised to see its increasing brightness.

  12. There is something about mysterious, hard to track and see, movement that binds cats and comets. We named one of our colony cats Comet and he was famous for sneaking up behind me when I was working outside. I eventually came to think of him as my assistant, although I think he thought he was my supervisor.

    I didn’t know Dixie Rose was a calico. We had a calico named Taylor (after the writer Peter Taylor) for 20 years, and she was the ruler of our house. There is a definite calico personality involving spunk and assertiveness. We have other indoor cats now, but Taylor will always have a special place in our hearts.

    1. I can’t believe it’s been over two years since I lost Dixie Rose. Here’s a nice portrait of her, and the little piece I wrote on her passing.

      The ability of a cat to suddenly appear ‘here’ when we expect it to be ‘there’ is marvelous. It also can result in howls of protest when a clumsy, inattentive human manages to step on a tail. Eventually, I learned never to take a step back without looking, unless I knew Dixie’s location for sure.

      By the way: I discovered your book recently. I’ve ordered a copy for my friend in the hill country, who has too many cats and too soft a heart. I think it may be a good way to begin talking with her about reducing the number of felines around her place.

      1. It’s been close to 8 years since we lost Taylor and we still think about her. 20 years (or 18 for you and Dixie Rose) together forms bonds that never die. We lost Taylor in a way very similar to how you lost Dixie Rose. She was slowing down with age but doing generally fine, and one day she began having repeated seizures. We had to let her go that same afternoon. It was hard, but anything else would have been cruel to Taylor.

        Thanks for the book order. I hope it helps your friend as she thinks about how to handle her cat population.

    1. Isn’t that a great word? I had to consult the dictionary when it popped into my mind, just to be certain it meant what I thought it did. Then, I had to consider whether the pairing of ‘importunate’ and ‘insistent’ was a redundancy. I decided it isn’t, and then I made the further decision that even if it is, it adds a nice bit of emphasis.

    2. While reading about the observational history of comets, I found this, and grinned: “Since 1985, a total of eight comets have been visited by spacecraft… In addition, the spacecraft Ulysses unexpectedly traversed the tail of Comet McNaught. It took that Ulysses eighteen days.

  13. A lovely post here that I enjoyed especially your excellent poem. You are indeed a talented lady. I am not overly fond of anything celestial but the moon is an exception which I love, especially the moon rising in the east. I too wonder how long our country is going to last. It is frightening but I try to not think of it and then I read the Internet news and the newspaper and it all comes back again.

    1. Moonrise is one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and there’s nothing like a full moon on the water. On the other hand, it’s amazing how bright the stars can be during the dark of the moon, at least when human lights don’t get in the way. But a comet? It amazes me that they come and go so regularly, even if ‘regularly’ means every 6,000 years or so, as with Neowise. We won’t be here to see its return, so we’d better take advantage of this passage!

  14. A lovely journey, thank you. I’ve had some wonderfully clear night skies of late.
    Of course, cats are the creatures reputed to have kept their connection strong with the spiritual realm while being on this Earth. Hence your poem is extra special.

    1. I remember visiting a King Tut exhibit in Houston in 2011. While some Egyptologists had problems with the exhibit, it did contain the sarcophagus of a cat reputed to have been part of the royal household, and I thought it the most compelling piece in the exhibit. I wanted in the worst way to touch it, but of course that was strictly prohibited. Touching Calliope beneath the light of Lulin made up for it.

  15. Cats and comets are both fleeting visitors in my life, so their linkage is appropriate! I hope to catch Neowise at some point, but I’m afraid the light pollution here will be too much for a good sighting. May have to take another road trip …

    1. Around the 24th-26th, it will be in the NW sky in the evening. I think there are a few spots past Chocolate Bayou on 2004 that would be dark enough, but I’d like to swing a trip to the hill country, where the combination of altitude and darkness would really do the trick. Of course, there’s no telling what conditions will be at this point; it’s a waiting game.

    1. I was surprised when I realized it was the cat who’d found me. To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first which kind of critter was roaming around, but it turned out to be my little friend, and we had a fine time. Sometimes the ‘little’ experiences of life leave the deepest impression — this one certainly did.

  16. Loved the poem, Linda, and the cat. We will be on the lookout for the comet. No problem if we are home since the sky is unpolluted by city lights. Even the Milky Way shines brightly. We love to lie on our backs on the deck and watch the evening evolve! –Curt

    1. I suspect that star-watching is delightful even when there’s no comet around to upstage them. Whether cloud-watching or star-watching, there’s something about looking upward that’s soothing, and sometimes quite fun. Shape-shifting clouds and constellating stars are filled with stories, after all!

  17. I, too, was impressed with the parallel lines you drew between the cat and comet, Linda. I hope you will be able to witness the passing of Neowise later this month. And who knows, maybe another shadow creature will join and inspire you.

    1. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Quite apart from the vagaries of the weather, I’ve read that the comet itself may either increase in brightness, or simply fall apart. Of course, if it maintains its current brightness, there should be a chance to see it, absent clouds, haze, and so on.

      I’d forgotten that the planets used to be considered wandering stars, and that Halley’s comet is included in the Bayeaux Tapestry. Fascination with the heavens always has been widespread, it seems, and modern scientific knowledge doesn’t lessen the fascination.

  18. I got tears in my eyes reading your beautiful poem, Linda, and thinking of Dixie Rose, though in reading your comments I later learned this green-eyed stray was not our Dixie. But oh, what beautiful words and what images you evoke in the comparisons. Perhaps one day Caillope will find you again.

    1. No, Dixie Rose always stayed inside, comet or no comet. Calliope would have been inside herself, had it not been for Dixie, who never would have tolerated an interloper. Calliope was a true stray, in the sense that she’d disappear for long stretches, and then return — just like a comet, now that I think of it. I suppose the difference is that comets are more predictable.

  19. My sense of the pull of Calliope was almost palpable. And the image of a Coma Calliope came to me as well. I don’t usually connect to a poem that strongly.
    By the way, the odd plant is sarsaparilla…

    1. I was so pleased by your first sentence. That’s the kind of response that makes a writer of any sort very, very happy.

      If I’d been asked to write the word ‘sarsaparilla,’ it would have come out ‘sasparilla.’ That’s how I’ve always pronounced it, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it written. Here’s another little something I didn’t know; the root beer-like drink called sarsaparilla once was made from sassafras. The complexity of all that is more than I have time to explore this morning, but I’m glad to know what your plant is.

        1. What a pretty plant. It looks like fireworks. I like most umbels anyway, but that one’s especially airy and light. On the other hand, ‘bristly sarsparilla’ sounds like an especially potent rootbeer!

  20. To my knowledge I’ve never seen a comet. I like the idea of a “celestial stray hungry for attention.” Seems like the perfect way to envision a comet’s real intent. I’d gladly attend to one if I could see it.

    1. Well, get thee to a clear horizon and look! Neowise is visible during the next week if you can get away from city lights and bad weather. Then you’ll have seen at least one comet! If you do a search with for your city, or a nearby one, and ‘Neowise,’ you can find the schedule and location of it.

    1. They all have it, that’s for sure — although it seems there is a continuum. Or, more likely, they simply exhibit their longing differently. Learning to read them’s sometimes as hard as learning to read humans.

  21. What a lovely comet kitty poem.

    It has been rather cloudy here, which makes comet watching a no-go. Our house isn’t situated very well for sky viewing, either. Too many trees, too much light pollution.

    Ah, for the days of my youth, when I could lie in our backyard and see the entire sky above, Milky Way, stars and all.

    1. That’s how I learned the constellations: flat on my back in the yard. We’ve got our own clouds today, and they’re projected to more or less linger for a few days. That’s not so good for comet-watching, but we sure do need the rain, and the clouds are bringing some along with them.

  22. This post brought me back to the many dark nights shared with our friend Brad, who owned a telescope which was the largest type of transportable unit made. He lived on a hill in the country, and when the skies were good he invited us out to view the planets and stars… all orchestrated by an app on his iPad that worked with his telescope. We brought the beer, and Brad took us star and planet gazing all through the night until we were too tired to watch any longer, or the sun began lighting the sky. The app he used gave us a real education on everything we viewed those nights. For the first time in my life, I truly felt the smallness of my life on planet Earth. Brad passed away a couple of years ago… I miss him and I miss those nights under the stars.

    I will look for the comet this week, as I think after tonight there won’t be clouds to interfere with the view. I will think of you and Calliope, and other mysterious meetings and connections that can’t be explained.

    1. What a wonderful friend, and what special experiences for you. Trading beer for star-gazing is perfection, in any number of ways. I had to especially smile at that, since the guy who taught me to sail began his career as a charter captain by offering Hobie Cat sails for six-packs of beer.

      Your story’s another reminder that art and science don’t have to be opposed. Learning about the realities of the planets and stars doesn’t mean we have to give up the stories and the poetry. They complement one another, and nourish us in different ways. I hope you’re able to see Neowise, and be nourished by that experience.

  23. I remember when Hale-Bopp appeared in 1997 – I think. A friend was visiting and we went out on the golf course behind our house to get away from the ground clutter. She took photos. Nice memory. I enjoyed your poem.

    1. It’s odd that I don’t remember Hale-Bopp. It was visible in Houston; maybe I just wasn’t interested then. I’m glad you got to see it, and I hope you’ll get to see Neowise. I suppose Lulin always will be ‘my’ comet, especially since the chances of seeing Neowise are dimming every day, thanks to two tropical systems that are lurking around. On the other hand, the weather people are so often wrong, maybe they’ll be wrong about this, too, and we’ll get clear skies.

  24. We went out to look for the comet last night, but couldn’t see it. Like you, I don’t think that we have the best viewing conditions. Someone who lives about 5 miles from us told us that he saw it.

    1. It’s hard here even with good weather, because of the need to get away from the lights of Houston. Still, if the weather clears a bit, I’ll give it a try. I hope you get another chance, too!

  25. I am several days behind so not sure whether you have had any success seeing Neowise. I can tell you that I have not. First the morning were cloudy and now that it is an evening event the clouds have transition to that time of day. I’m glad that you’ve seen one, that is one more than I, and hope you can add our current visitor to your list.

    1. No Neowise for me — our weather patterns have changed, and after tonight’s tropical system rolls through, there’s another one on tap for the end of the week. Maybe tomorrow night or Wednesday we’ll get lucky, but I’m not going to go searching unless conditions are really good, since I’d have to drive at least an hour west. Lulin was high in the sky and easier to see. That’s all right; there will be plenty of nice photos, and when the skies finally clear the constellations still will be there.

      1. I’ve accepted the lack of a comet in my portfolio. For a true dark sky, like you, I’d have to travel a good distance which is why I haven’t done the milky way either. Guess we can rationalize by saying we are more “down to earth”.

        1. That’s not a bad way to look at it. Besides, I’m not really into running the roads at night by myself, and none of my friends were available, or up for that kind of adventure.

  26. That’s a lovely poem. I tried a few nights to see Neowise, one morning waking up at 2am, getting dressed and going out into the garden, but despite a clear sky, not obvious object with a tail, with or without binoculars. The last few days have been cloudy so no more chances, and every day Neowise moves further away unfortunately.

    Shoreacres is an easy name for me to remember. It’s the name of a block of flats that my grandmother bought when I was young, shortly before she got sick, unofortunately she never moved in and passed away. The flats back onto the beach and we retained the beach hut that came with the flats for a number of years. It made my summers growing up and going to the beach every day really special. This was in Poole, Dorset in England.

    1. That’s interesting about your grandmother’s flats. There’s a small town just up the road from me named Shoreacres, but that’s not where my screen name came from. I like both the Texas coast (the shore) and the hill country (where there were a few acres I especially enjoyed), ergo: shoreacres. When I chose it more than a decade ago, everyone still was nervous about anonymity online. Today, I’d just use my name, as I have on my photography blog, but making the change seems more trouble than it’s worth.

      Hurricane Hanna made any chance of seeing Neowise impossible for us this weekend. No matter. We’re happy enough to have escaped the storm, and there’s always the possibility that another comet will come into view. With all the amateur astronomers scanning the skies, a comet’s chances of remaining hidden aren’t as good as they used to be.

    1. Near and far, concrete (!) and abstract, living and dead-but-still-traveling, like a comet: it’s the polarities of life that add interest, sometimes in unexpected ways.

  27. Delightful poem. I missed viewing this comet and am not likely to be around on this planet when next it passes is a certainty.

    1. I missed Neowise, too, thanks to another natural phenomenon: clouds. No matter. Its appearance provided a great opportunity to focus on something other than the virus whose name shall not be mentioned; looking up usually is restorative.

    1. The nice thing about comets is that they return. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be around for Neowise’s return, but who knows what other heavenly body is lurking out there to be discovered and admired?

      As for the virus, it’s still affecting us, but in my area recoveries are up and new cases are way down. Schools are open, and the high school band is practicing again; even though the schools have been open for a couple of weeks, there seem to be no ill effects. I’m sure if there had been, it would be all over the news. I hope the same happens in other areas soon.

        1. I do hope so. My life hasn’t changed so much, but I feel badly for people who’ve had to make such significant adjustments: like your cancellation of your workshops. I want very much to travel to Kansas City to visit an aunt, and I think I’ll do that next month, but I can’t travel quite so casually as I usually do. Choosing lodging, for example, is a little trickier — but doable.

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