Raphael Williams

In Which the Five Brightest Stars in the Sky Make an Imaginary Constellation

1. Sirius

Solidly, like the deep end of the pool
against your palms when you touch to the bottom
and realize you can’t make it all the way back up.
When you realize you wanted to feel it,
scrape your fingertips against the texture
that really you should have been used to
by now, but you’re not, and the air wants in
your lungs, and you let it, of course, of course.
And where does the air go? I mean it; where does it go?
The water comes in and the air disappears,
nonetheless. (Nobody told you vanished things
go to the bottom of the pool.) Another time
you’re going down past the arches,
where you weren’t supposed to go,
not alone, not in the dark, and Jupiter
was fixed—indeed you

2. Canopus

could have sworn that if you’d reached one
fat finger all the way past the steeples and the streetlights
and worn the asteroid belt like a bangle (it’s supposed
to be worn like a belt) you would have poked it
right in its pustular red eye. You could have sworn
it was staring you all the way down. Like an accusation.
Hitting down beyond where you’re standing.
And you can feel yourself getting hungry
as you skulk along the low paths, getting hungrier
and you can’t quite place it but soon enough
you realize you’ve got a craving for Jupiter’s meat,
sugary and creamy, texture like the soft foam blocks
you know from when you were a kid, you’re not
quite sure why, but you remember more than anything
the folds of them filling the space between your fingers
curling into a fist, which you mimic now, reflexively;
all five cramp towards a center, an event horizon,
a totality just above your palm

3. Alpha Centauri

and you don’t mind the ache. Fireflies tease you in the dark
and you reach out with the hand that isn’t burning
but you miss, every time. Fall short. Another time you are falling
because you thought it would be a good idea to try to rollerblade
down the nearest hill, even though you’d only rollerbladed
three times before, and always with the earth moving back
to carry you up. What goes up must come down. No,
it was more like What goes down must come up. Like a law
someone wished into existence. Your father told you that,
when you hit your bike and sent yourself flying,
and sent a river of blood pouring over your cupid’s bow,
and chipped your front tooth for the second time.
He said it with a little smile: an allusion to what he had told you
when you had complained about going up the hills
flipped on its syllogical head. The first time
you chipped your tooth was much simpler.
It was a table with a corner, if you can imagine that,
and a girl who you used to love. In the mornings
occasionally you wake up flicking a sweet tongue
over the broken shelf that lingers there. It’s the same
sweet collision with the ground when you realize you’re
going to shoot straight into the street and the wind
is whipping your face and it’s like all your life
there’s been a clamp upon your arms and only then
has it been lifted. And the earth, the grass
like a bouquet of petty wishes, the clouds
hovering like zeppelins in the sky, the rippling
stack of heat behind you, it’s all hydraulics.
So what do you do? You launch yourself
sideways onto the

4. Arcturus

asphalt. Of course, of course. You let your legs
splay out to your side like a stuck deer and
scrape your shins. They take weeks to heal,
and make a little maze of wiry scratches
that scabs and bumps up to your knee. When
the cap on your twice-chipped tooth falls off
in the middle of lunch and your friend in response
says that she’s kept her body whole, that she’s
never lost nor broken, barely let any blood
flow out of her, she’s shocked when you
tell her in response that you broke your finger
shoving your friend around in eighth grade,
in the way where both of you do it on purpose
just to feel the pressure of your skin revolting
against another’s. She tells you that when
she thinks of childhood she imagines
a room overflowing with pillows, an embrace
of darkness like a forest hollow in the dry autumn.
A place that doesn’t exist, that exists in the way
a tarot card pronounces the word neuron, the way
the five brightest stars in the sky make
an imaginary constellation. Sparking like
crimson stitches in your brain is the long-

5. Vega

venerated act of hurtling, in young winter
from a sled pierced onto a fencepost, which
you dented with your skull, thankful it wasn’t
the other way around, and the moments before
string through to make a fine chain of awareness
that the air you know is about to change. Precious
currency. Foolishness sours like old milk and then
springs back again, who else can claim alchemy?
You describe to her what it’s like to swim. With
a tired lover’s grin you try to tell her about
the green underbelly of a wave, when you know you’re—
how did you describe it? That’s right—fucked,
and over and over you remind your hands
and your toes and your stomach that this could be it.
It never sticks. Instead, like a bag of popcorn,
a bunch of old flashbulbs go off at once,
like a vinyl record of twenty people gasping
at slightly different times, just the sting
and the snap and the long drop down
from the stalactite at the top of the cave.
It flips midway through and you land, of course,
of course, of course, right side up.

Raphael Williams is a poet pursuing their BA in physics and creative writing at NYU. Their work has appeared in BLANK magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, and the Stardust Review.