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.