I Saw A Wilderness of Stars

Louis L’Amour – The High Graders

“All loose things seem to drift down to the sea, and so did I.

Louis L’Amour

 

Library Lovers

by Austin MacRae

She devours Steel, and he L’Amour.
She leads him to the fiction, where they part
for different shelves. He’s eager to explore
the tough ol’ west, and she the tough ol’ heart.
They meet me at the desk with separate piles.
Unthinkingly, I mix the books together.
I sense his wave of nervousness. She smiles
and quickly sorts the titles out. ‘Nice weather
today,’ she says. He slides his pile away,
averts his eyes, and waits for her to pull
out bags. ‘Let’s eat at Lou’s,’ I hear her say.
She grabs his arm and leads him, tote bag full
of cowboy stories swinging at his heel,
his sidearm holstered by her whim of steel.


Louis L’Amour wrote fiction but his life was purely genuine.  Born in Jamestown North Dakota as Louis LaMoore in 1908, he moved with his father in 1923 after family finances suffered from a series of bank failures and hard times in the farming business in North Dakota.  They moved west and for the next 20 years, L’Amour lived the life that would infuse his stories as a writer.  Ranch hand, professional boxer, dock worker, itinerant laborer and merchant seaman, he traveled the west and the world before serving in WWII in the Army. 

L’Amour always had an interest in writing and had some success placing articles on boxing along with short stories about a sea captain during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  It was during this time he published poetry including a number of sonnets. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s that L’Amour’s big break as a writer occurred when a short story of his was published in Collier’s with a western theme.  John Wayne and the producer Robert Fellows read it and Fellows offered L’Amour $4,000 for the rights to the screen play.  L’Amour wisely kept the rights to the novel, rewrote the short story as a full length novel that mostly followed the plot of the movie, changed the title of the novel to Hondo, same as the movie, with a quote on the cover from John Wayne saying; “this is the finest Western I have ever read.”  L’Amour’s success was cemented from there.  L’Amour wrote pulp fiction in a style that was popular and was prolific in his output. Many of his books might not pass the sniff test for political correctness of today, but as a writer, he was unflagging in his focus on entertaining with the novels he created.   I have probably read 10 to 15 Louis L’Amour books over the years, although none in the last 35 years. Although none of them are on my book shelves today, I look back and enjoy them all the more, knowing he also was a writer of sonnets.  


An Ember In The Dark

by Louis L’Amour

Faintly, along the shadowed shores of night
I saw a wilderness of stars that flamed
And fluttered as they climbed or sank, and shamed
The crouching dark with shyly twinkling light;
I saw them there, odd fragments quaintly bright,
And wondered at their presence there unclaimed,
Then thought, perhaps, that they were dreams unnamed,
That faded slow, like hope’s arrested flight.

Or vanished suddenly, like futile fears-
And some were old and worn like precious things
That youth preserves against encroaching years-
Some disappeared like songs that no man sings,
But one remained- an ember in the dark-
I crouched alone, and blew upon the spark.

Containment Is The Key To Breaking Through

Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

by Austin MacRae

How best to hold a Master’s mastered light
that flickers deep in pearl, a milklit face?
His paintings stun: complex perspectives right,
well-framed, with every fold and thread in place.
Over and over, within this structured space,
he nails the tough proportions, deftly blocks
the naked eye’s distortions with such grace
of form that every stricture clicks and locks.
Like him, I shoot life through a dovetailed box,
a darkened room. Containment is the key
to breaking through. I watch what it unlocks
inside the mirror’s polished glass, and see
if like the great, meticulous Vermeer,
a blooming world pours through my pinhole, clear.


Camera obscura is the optical phenomenon that occurs when an image at the other side of a screen is projected through a small hole and appears as reversed and inverted on a surface opposite the opening. This discovery led to the development of photography.  It is also an apt metaphor for how the world feels six months into the pandemic. I still see the world around me, but it appears smaller and flipped upside down. There is a wall between me and that world and much less light is shining in.

Yesterday, the young woman at the Trader Joe’s checkout jumped away from me as I approached her register and with fright in her voice commanded I stand exactly on the watermelon on the floor in front of the growing fortress-like plexi-glass barrier that separated us.  I warily complied exactly as commanded, all pleasantries of human interaction obliterated by caution and safety, no smiles exchanged through our face masks, her eyes continuously downcast, a bit too intensely ringing up my modest purchase, never once looking at me, tangible her fear of being in the same space that I am in.  I get it.   I am not sure how I would handle a cashier job these days.  I too would probably suffer from moments of the ebbie-jeebies that I was observing. It’s not that I had violated her six foot barrier, it was that it felt like she wanted a 30 foot barrier in that moment.  I made a half-hearted attempt at fake pleasantries but it seemed to make the mood even more somber.  It wasn’t her fault.  In the end it made me feel like shopping at Trader Joe’s was my mistake.  My local Cub Food let’s me check out all on own, maintaining this false notion we have that our social isolation is intact. It’s depressing that when I venture out for my one interaction with the world in a day and the world jumps back from me in alarm, runs away from me in fear, even if that destination has the best gluten-free bagels in town.

I long to get out of this box of COVID-19, end the cues in lines in front of everywhere I go, this social distancing which is another way of feeling social ostracism.  I long to remove the masks and cut a giant hole in the universe and walk back into the world as I formerly knew it. Go to a baseball game, sit surrounded by strangers and drink a beer. I know it can’t be done, that world may never exist again. I fear that the future will be so completely foreign to the world that I had grown accustomed that everything will feel upside down forever and I will be the one much smaller than before, inverted. I feel myself moving along this new foreign, unpaved path, looking for hope, looking for ways to make my world big again, even if these days its only in the pages of a book or in the line of a poem, where an adventure may still await.

images (1)
Vladimir Kush


The Camera Obscura

by John Addington Symonds
Inside the skull the wakeful brain,
Attuned at birth to joy and pain,
Dwells for a lifetime; even as one
Who in a closed tower sees the sun
Cast faint-hued shadows, dim or clear,
Upon the darkened disc: now near,
Now far, they flit; while he, within,
Surveys the world he may not win:
Whate’er he sees, he notes; for nought
Escapes the net of living thought;
And what he notes, he tells again
To last and build the brains of men.
Shades are we; and of shades we weave
A trifling pleasant make-believe;
Then pass into the shadowy night,
Where formless shades blindfold the light