Pass, Sing

Originally posted on Medium  | Feature image from GarlandCannon


The Perseids are among the most storied and reliable meteors in the sky, their first noted appearances dating back thousands of years. Named for how they seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus, they too fling off in random directions of startling and seeming import. Much as Perseus’ exploits fill our conception of the night sky through constellation, his sons come about in greatest force mid-August, a reminder that it is the young and bold that pass through brighter than the constant and old.

On the peak date of the Perseids in 2013, August 12, I can’t see a goddamn thing. The air is cool and rising, with low-hanging clouds streaking across a half-soft-red sky. The red is the same hue as the reflection of a setting sun in a shallow pool, and indeed the night sky has a faint glow that won’t be extinguished. A storm has to, or will, happen.

The Perseids are fascinating not only because of their astonishing regularity, but also due to their sense of progression: multiple scientists have pointed to an irregular mass distribution in the Perseid stream that leads to a period where the meteors are brightest and their streaks are most distended, followed by shorter, faint meteors that end up looking like random marks of punctuation.

The only streaks of light that dash across my eyes come from the road, passing cars that emanate that almost-comforting hiss as they pass by along the road. In my backyard, their headlights clash up against the side of my neighbor’s house, the light beam flattening onto the surface, focusing into a rectangular shape, and tracking across the length of the house before flitting off and out of sight, returning in an instant to the now-visible car, which promptly zooms by. This happens just often enough for me to be unable to avoid it, and my unwillingness to avert my eyes from the sky above means that the stars I’m trying to look between appear to be blinking.

I had a beautiful explanation for this blinking when I was younger: the stars, most long-dead, were communicating with us with so much energy their history, to the point where a static lingering light was not enough to tell their story. They were active, not radiant but radiating, not charged but absolutely buzzing. I wrote a poem about them, calling them generals of the Civil War era; though their markers were still there, they were long-gone. Their histories long forgotten, their stories long lost. Or so my poem went.

Another car passes by, only this one has those new LED lights which seem brighter by provoking contrast. The light seems to reach inside my neighbor’s house, and even around the side to briefly hit the trees in their backyard. And then it’s dark again, because it’s 1:35 in the morning and the person in the car is by themselves on the road, and thus like a solitary moviegoer sitting in the last row. The starkness of the light, the speed, the mutability of the moment and my only-just ability to register it are startling, but then I realize that it is startling not because a car just passed by me, which happens every day, but because an acquaintance of mine from college just died in a car crash yesterday.


photo by Todd Hido

I can’t truly say we were real friends, that our relationship-as-punctuation would be anything other than a weak comma that would probably get thrown out in a second or third round of edits. We shared a writing class together, and I recall being impressed by her essays fixated on obsessions and compulsions. Impressed because they weren’t weird for the sake of weirdness, rather they were interested in stripping bare these compulsive acts (of cleanliness? of certain chess moves?) and laying them neatly among the normalcies of life.

That’s why it was the abruptness of it, the loud clap that signified its coming, that was just as shocking to me as the realization that the event itself, the accident, and the deaths it caused, had passed long before, while I was oblivious. Lightning before thunder, youth before age. A bright light in a murky sky.

Giving up on the sky, I went inside and tried to write. Write this. And though the transitions and proximity of paragraphs lend a nice feeling of consistency, of reliability, it is just the trickery of light and shadows concealing a poor effort. Every time that I don’t seriously write for a while, say days strung together through laziness, weeks down the drain from long work days, months blinked by due to habit, I become increasingly resigned to the idea that my time has passed, my skill is gone, I’m washed up, if ever dry to begin with. If I’m not writing, then I’m not a writer. And if I’m not a writer, why am I writing?

That feeling doesn’t last, of course; it too passes.


“Laura and Brady in the Sahdow of Our House” Abelardo Morell

The word ‘Pass’ has for its roots the Latin passare or passus, which bound further back toward ‘pace’ and the notion of a step as a single unit, or even the religious connotation of “in peace or by favor”. The idea of the word erupting from its most basic unit, a single step, heedless of direction or intent, is I have to admit a romantic one. And yet none of those ancient considerations matter when observing how flexible the word is: used as noun, idiom, verb; used with an object, or without; maintaining energy, but also capable of passivity. It contains within itself both our recognition of a moment narrowly missed, combined with some ineluctable feeling that we are just coming upon it, if only we proceed attentively. Time and the elements can work just as eagerly against us as our own aspirations and fixations can work for us.

So much of what revolves around our lives is just that, the endless stream of events, circumstances, realizations, and yes, people and places that pass us by. We feel held down, and are, but by a restlessness that keeps our eyes looking at a static point that presages movement. But if we’re orbiting the object of our fixation, then it is just that, fixed, and only we can pass it by. Either it goes, or we do.

It’s now 2:52. I think, lest I let the tenuous bit of coherence I have left pass me up, I better pass out.