He Talks Stars
by Yennie Jun
He talks stars, he looks up and sees the night sky for the first time, he sees the speckled shining lights, he does not know how to formulate the density of his thoughts, but he says hello and they say hello back, and when he sleeps he dreams of stars, when he wakes he thinks of stars.
He talks numbers, he counts everything in the house and drives his mother crazy, twenty-three books, seventeen rakes, thirteen chickens (if you didn’t count that chicks that were just born, he stayed up all night watching them peck their way out of their thin eggshell prisons), eleven shovels, seven chairs, five toothbrushes contained in a single cup in the bathroom, three sleeping pads, two brothers, one rod with which his father beats the children once in a while if they misbehave.
He talks stories to his friends, he drags two little boys of the same age up the mountain with a book on stars rattling in his backpack and with a creased paper map tucked under his elbow. The boys are from farms not too far from his family’s farm. They are his best friends and they listen to the stories he draws on the night sky of all of these foreign heroes with long names that are hard to remember, Cassiopeia and Andromeda and Perseus and Sagittarius. He stares at the crumpled star map, squinting by the light of the brightest stars (no! Those are planets! The one on the right is Jupiter, the one on the left is Saturn!), tracing out the shapes over and over again with his fingers.
He talks dreams, he talks wishes, he talks observatory he would like to have one day to look at the stars every single night, he talks library that he will move his bed into so that he can have books whisper to him as he sleeps, he talks constellations etched into every moving part of his life, he talks living at the top of the mountain with all of his favorite foods, he talks I’m sorry I’ll get back to my chores to his mother who tells him that his dreams are rubbish and to keep his head out of the clouds and to do well in school and that some dreams are outrageous and don’t make sense.
He talks math equations, he talks angles of the light of the stars that pool on his books at night, he talks algebra with ink slowly fading from the pages of his second-hand textbook, he talks prime numbers and long division and decimals and irrational numbers (as if the numbers can make bad decisions!), he talks balance of equation that seems to mirror balance of universe.
He talks movements, he talks wrestling with his friends in the dirt field behind his house, he talks playing soccer with last month’s newspaper crumpled into a ball, he talks walking three hours to school each day because the school is far but also because he and his friends are too busy jumping in and out of the ditches and chasing each other up the trees, he talks punches and kicks and blocks and strikes in the martial arts classes he sneaks into with his friend when they skip class together, he talks rubbing the skin of his arms and legs from the mosquito bites that form like constellations, he talks rubbing the welts on the back of his legs from the rod his father wields.
He talks calculus, he talks derivative of the curve of the horizon, he talks integrals and art and tangent lines and beauty of the universe and physics and astronomy and the man named Newton who started it all.
He talks beer with his friends in the lake at the base of the mountain before they all separate to go off to college, he talks with his first cigarette and almost drowns in water because the smoke makes him cough and anyhow he never learned how to swim when he was younger, he talks laughter and stories and can I have more beer and we’re all out of beer and no here’s an extra pack, he talks stars when it gets dark and names the constellations and points out the Milky Way.
She tells him, boy how you talk chord, for someone who grew up without the piano that I loved, for someone who never took a single music lesson, for someone who cannot read or notate the piles and piles of sheet music stored in my bookshelf, how well you talk chord.
He talks English in the new country with a new wife and a new child, he talks professor names of his advisors and student names of the papers he grades, he talks ABC books to the new life he has brought into this new world, he talks hamburger chicken nuggets large Sprite orders to Burger King, he talks body language to the secretaries at the hospital because he does not know what to call these body parts.
She talks divorce, and he talks apologies, and together they talk future, they talk paperwork they never end up filing, they talk let’s make it work even though I’m not happy and it’s hard, they talk let’s move for the children’s’ education because that matters the most now, they talk let’s sacrifice career and neighborhood and hobbies and everything else we thought mattered most in our lives for our children.
He talks laundry machine, he talks lawn mower, he talks string trimmer to the edges of his lawn, he talks paint and paintbrush and primer and sandpaper, he talks dishwasher and garbage disposal manual, he talks chainsaw to the branches in the front yard of the tree that needs to be cut down (sorry, sorry to the birds nest that falls out, sorry to the two small newborn birds that flutter in the ruins of their home, only having barely punched themselves out of their eggshell prison), he talks gutters newly installed all around the perimeter of the roof after all of the shingles have been blown down by the hurricane, and he talks chords to the piano he tunes diligently three times a year.
He talks highways, the highways that have etched themselves onto his forehead. He talks three hours a day in the car on a highway that barely turns, he talks subservience to a boss who works him like a horse, he talks accents of the radio talk shows he can mimic almost a hundred percent accurately.
He talks college tuition, he talks mortgages and cashback and taxes, he talks money and how we don’t have it and how can we have more and I’m sorry we don’t have enough and what can I do for more and maybe I should get another job.
At night after work, after wife, after dinner, after children, he grabs a beer and sits outside in his backyard and stares at the sky and recounts the arc of his life in all of the languages he has known. He recites their names even though most of their forms are hidden by the fog of the light pollution in the humidity and the fog of time in his memory: Cassiopeia, Andromeda, Perseus. He recites their names over and over in his head, tracing the barely visible outlines in the sky with his eyes, sipping the warm cheap liquid.
About the Author
Yennie graduated from Tufts University with a history and computer science degree. However, creative writing has always been her hobby, passion, and past-time. After working at Microsoft as a software engineer for two years, she is currently located in Korea, working on her novel.