Erin McCluskey


How the Stars are Given Names
(naming what we canít hold)

I. Cetus (5 degrees south) whale
The night the whale died the tall buildings and marketplaces and the houses that floated on water were burned to the ground. The whale had come to see with his own eyes the tall and floating buildings when he got stuck on the sandbar. The whale saw the little creatures scurry towards him and lean poles onto his side and climb unto his back. The creatures dug into back and pulled out muscles and fat. The whale screamed but no one heard it. (Whale screams in oxygen lose their terror and sound more like resignation.) The creatures scurried away with their wooden poles and claws and his flesh in their arms. The whale lay dying, the air pulling at his skin and his breath and drying the blood on his back into a deep red like fine lacquer.
II. Libra (15 degrees south) balance
On her wedding day, seeds, beans and coins were thrown at the doors of the house and children scrambled to get them leaving no room for demons to enter the house. She walked through the house without touching the ground. She lay on both sides of a saddle and a scale and then went to her room to rest.
III. Vela (45 degrees south) sails
The lotus gathering boats had deep blue sails. The wealthy families owned the small blue-sailed boats. The merchants preferred the larger boats where they could lean into the sides and breathe in the scent of singing girls and wine. Lanterns reflected a more blurred version of what was on the surface. The West Lake is filled with boats that float like standing on dry land. The monastery keeps its boat tied up and it is the only boat not out on a feast day. Their boat causes a storm every time it is put out to sea. In the yellow boats the shellfish and turtles wait for someone to buy them and put them back into the West Lake where they will swim away or sink down Ė the end of a prayer.
IV. Scorpius (30 degrees south) scorpion
She was born on the 5th day of the 5th moon, the day belonging to the maleficent animals. When her mother tried to drown her, the bucket turned over and soaked the floor. When she was older her mother sent her deep into the woods to collect firewood hoping that the animals she was born with would take her back.
V. Canes Venatici (40 degrees north) hunting dogs
The king walked in the woods with his damsels. His woods were vast and dense and filled with creatures. He let his dogs run after deer and he asked his damsels to run with the dogs. When they were tired, the damsels left their clothes hanging from trees and entered the lake to swim. The dresses and robes floated in the air like ghosts.
VI. Aquarius (10 degrees south) water carrier
After one month the baby is washed in a silver basin. The women present pull the gold and silver hairpins out of their hair to stir the water. The women who brought the baby into the world throw candies into the bath water. The young woman present, their hair loose around their faces, press towards the basin and grab for the candies and eat them. They are trying to turn sugar into life. Their great-great grandmothers waded through rivers and ate fecundating plants. They were trying to turn excess into life.
VII. Crater (15 degrees south) cup
He sold dirt and sawdust as remedies for emptiness. He poured mercury into cups and let people see the liquid metal before they drank it. He was selling a kind of immortality, an internal entombment. The body can take a certain amount of metal but soon the blood is too heavy and the veins sag bunder the weight like branches covered in snow.