There are three lies

About the sky,

First, that it cares that

There are three lies

About the earth,

Second, that it cares that

There are three lies

About the sky.

When we drove across Montana,
you suddenly exclaimed
now you finally knew why they call it "Big Sky Country."
The sky was just so big, so blue. You breathed.
So blue.

I didn't hesitate. I knew what to do.
I told you that your eyes were even prettier than that sky.
I was lying; at that moment I was thinking about everything
but your eyes.


* * *


That year they sent me to the San Francisco office,
you probably don't remember this anymore but
one time you called me in the late afternoon (your night)
and asked me what the sky looked like over there.
I told you that the sunset over the Pacific was amazing,
and how much I wished you could be there to see it with me,
in my arms.

But that was a lie. There had been a lapse the night before,
with Janine, the director of Asian sales and marketing,
and I couldn't bear to look out the window,
for fear I might see my own reflection
in the glass.


* * *


Last year when we said our vows on the shore
on Catalina, under the bluest sky I had ever seen,
I vowed to love you as long as the sky is blue.


The sky is still blue.


The first lie is told in the daytime. It is:
there is a many-colored blanket nestled between you and the starry void. 

 
The second lie is told at twilight. It is:
that was the most beautiful sunset you will ever see.

The third lie is told at night. It is:
all of this is eternal.

There is no fourth lie. There are no lies in the cool grey light of dawn.

The first says it's silk and golden,
and the fragile light of dusk is glass.

The second says it is made of fire,
and the sun will melt into a pillar bright.

The third says it is a cloak of heaven,
dragged by Nyx across the land.

But silly human, silly stories,
silly lies and silly teachings.
Did you not know that all of these are true?

.

About the low grey clouds she says:
Every time November comes in
cold, dark and brown (matching the leaves),
the geese fly south and you stop calling.

About the clear blue sky she says:
January mornings that are this sunny can't be trusted
it is a fake sunshine (lighting up the wine bottles on my windowsill)
masking the windchill.

Regarding a midnight sky in April she says:
Yeah, from here, it looks like a trillion stars but
I bet there is a guy like you up there (lying to somebody)
too.

one lie

The moonquake was no big deal, not even

the next day. Didn't you read all about it?


two lies


Neil deGrasse Tyson talks with his elegant hands

as if he himself conducts the symphony

of the sky happenings.


three lies about the sky


Your sky might be different than mine,

but we can all love the same stars,

although tomorrow night, that whimsical moon

will obscure the Leonids.

The sky opens a mossy tome
           (with your name on it)
and reads:



And what can you do but
breathe your teethy, salty human words to the sky
like tar from the tongue of a rat

Say it through your nose, flared
Through your eyes, set and narrowed
Through your broken language, your broken heart:
Treason.

The sky is blue.


Our science teachers have taught us,
There is no "blue" in the sky;
(Perhaps in the way that there is no 'I' in 'team')
There is only Rayleigh Scattering,
And the inability of longer wavelengths of light
To be captured by it
Until sunset.

This must be true,
For I have flown high up into it,
And never been able to find a patch of blue
To take home.





The sky is grey.

Never, never, never;

The greyest day is still only white,
Seen dimly, from below.

And even then, always, one can search enough,
And find the patch of color,
Or the color in every patch.








The sky is black.

"Blackest night" is simply when
The stars shine brightest.
Countless, endless orbs of flame,
Ringed by worlds to dwarf our own.

O, what fools men are to dream
That our thin veil of atmosphere
Can shield us from our Universe.

(The screen goes blue and a high-pitched keening noise starts and stops after exactly five seconds.)

(The words PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT flash on the screen.)

(A man sits behind a wooden desk. The man is in his mid-to-late-fifties, and his once-dark hair is starting to gray at the edges, though his eyebrows remain black. His jacket is a dark, almost black blue, his tie is red. There is a potted plant beside him, a large window displaying a green, sunlit field behind him, and a bookshelf stuffed full partially in view on his right.)

Anchor: Hello. We've interrupted your usual programming to bring you this public service announcement.

(His voice has the faintest hint of a southern drawl. He smiles easily at the camera.)

Anchor: It has come to our attention that certain unsavory individuals have been spreading misinformation about the nature of our dear sky. This, my friends, will not stand. So we here at SciCorp, in conjunction with NASA and the United States Government, will try and clear some things up.

First off, we would like to remind you that there are no aliens.

(He holds up his hands in mock-surrender)

I know, I know, I'm disappointed too. I'd like nothing more than to tell you all that we aren't alone in this universe, but I'm afraid all reports indicate otherwise. There are no aliens in our galaxy, much less our solar system. And this rumor going around that we're using Martian slave labor is just ridiculous. Really, people. Come on.

Secondly, it's come to our attention that some of you out there believe the stars are falling. I'd like to ease your minds and tell you all that the stars are not actually falling. Those are called "meteorites," or "meteoroids" when they're still in the air. Yes, things do occasionally fall from the sky. They're these chunks of rock and space debris that go through our atmosphere. They are not dangerous, as most times they disintegrate upon entering our atmosphere, and when they hit ground- if they hit ground- they're usually the size of chihuahua skulls. There's nothing to worry about.

Meteorites are completely harmless, and these rumors going around that literal star fragments have fallen to earth and are responsible for the Californian forest fires is nonsense. The fires are due to careless campers and smokers who don't put out their cigarette butts. Cigarettes are the real dangers here, ladies and gentlemen.

Lastly, the sky does exist. Earth is not kept inside another, bigger planet, and the sky we see is not just the underside of that hollow outer planet. Please stop firing weapons into the air in the hopes of getting the outer planet's attention.

Thank you for your time. Sorry to interrupt your show, but some things needed to be said. Y'all have a nice night now.

(Anchor smiles and nods at the camera and freezes. A voice off-screen says something.)

Anchor: We done? Good.

(He gets up, and it becomes apparent he has no legs, just a series of purple, vine-like tentacles sprouting from his waist.)

Anchor: You think they bought it?

(The screen goes blue. The high-pitched keening starts again. Both blue screen and keening stop after fifteen seconds, and the Kitchen Nightmares rerun resumes.)

I.

Ehecatl gripped my hand firmly, as if a wind was going to rise up across the prairie to snatch me away. We ran. We tramped dry, tall grass beneath our feet. It crackled like a campfire and whipped me across the face and forearms. Hand and in hand we raced across the field with only the snapping grass sounds, the hum of summer insects and our own breath until Ehecatl pulled us to a stop. “Here.” He said, panting only a little from the exertion. “It’s far enough from the highway. We stop here.”

A bright stitch of pain arced up my left side. I let go of his hand to shove unruly curls back from my forehead. I only yelped a little when Ehecatl put both hands on my chest and shoved me. I fell backwards, onto the grass. He straddled me, his silhouette a man-shaped darkness against the shattered brilliance of the night sky. He grabbed my face. “Look up,” he said. “It starts soon.”

Sure enough, the first shooting star flashed above us as he slid down my body, unbuttoned my shirt, planted kisses everywhere there was exposed flesh. “Oh,” I said as another seemed to tumble from the heavens. “You’re going to miss this.”

He fumbled with my belt. “I’ve already seen the perseids.”

When I arched my back with mounting pleasure, both at his mouth and in wonder at the meteor shower, he turned his head to spit on the ground and said, “This is how the world began.”

II.

It rained the whole week I was in Scotland. Ehecatl was doing a year’s stint as a visiting lecturer at Glasgow University. We hadn’t seen each other in five. He met me at the airport. He had on a wool coat, owlish glasses, and a crooked grin. The coat and the glasses were new and conveyed respectability, but the smile didn’t. I held out my hand to be shaken, he pulled me into a hug that was far too brief. Our bodies did not quite make contact. The trip was delineated by galleries, coffee, and unbearable nearness.

We saw the Kelvingrove, and the stately graves of the Glasgow Necropolis. We spent an hour in the cathedral at arm’s length apart. He slept on the couch. He insisted that I take his bed. The blanket I tucked up to my chin smelled of detergent, and not Ehecatl.

On the last day, we walked along the Clyde, huddled close together beneath his umbrella. He kissed me on the nose. He said almost sheepishly, “The weather isn’t always like this.”

I kissed him back. On the mouth. Hard. He did not draw away. “It isn’t?”

That crooked grin again. “No. I think it’s this way because you’re leaving.”

III.

We are riding the Ferris wheel at Santa Monica. Andrew and I sit too close, and a woman on vacation from somewhere back east looks clearly uncomfortable as we hold hands. We don’t care, just married grins are wide across both of our faces, and we kiss at the apex. The lights of Los Angeles glitter and reflect in the surf below. When we get off the ride, the woman hurries away and does not look back.

Still holding hands, Andrew and I walk through throngs of people. He sniffs the air. “Hey, you want cotton candy?”

“Yes.” I say, although I hate eating it. The smell rises sweetly above the sea salt. At the booth, the attendant passes my husband a pink cloud of sugar as big as my head. I smile at Andrew and take in the laughter, the sound of the carousel, and the smell of nostalgia.

“Cotton candy smells like being a kid.” I say.

Andrew does his best cowboy accent. “Smells like the travelling circus and the county fair, I reckon.” Then as an afterthought, “Pardner.”

I hit him softly on the shoulder. “Shut up.”

Then I catch sight of a byronic figure leaning against the railing in a wool coat far too heavy for the California weather. It can’t be, I think. But it is. Seven years older, and looking distinguished at the edges is Ehecatl. He smiles that crooked grin. His dark eyes gleam like stars.

He passes me, nods at Andrew and disappears into the crowd.

“Who was that?” Andrew asks, as he leans the cotton candy in my direction.

“No one,” I say. And take a bite of a cloud.

I tell myself three lies about the sky.

 

The first is that the sky is the limit.
That the world itself has a upper bound.
That there is always something there
to ground you,
to keep you
from reaching for the rising sun.

But there is nothing there.
Nothing keeps you from crossing into that void,
from losing yourself into the depths of space.
You are not grounded; you are floating free.
And the only think keeping you from kicking off into the darkness
is yourself.

 

The second is that of the clear blue sky,
of what is called a beautiful day.
Of the sunlight scattering off the crisp spring breeze,
heralding a bright warm day ahead.

But there is nothing beautiful about a clear blue sky.
The harsh light buring through the tears, thwarting
my attempts to retreat into darkness.
Not since you left me nothing
but the shadow trailing in your wake.

 

The third is that you were there with me, that night with the full moon over untroubled waters

The third is not a lie.

At first, I didn't know what to write for this. I wanted to participate, but I felt like the vein of poetry had been tapped out, at least for me. But upon thinking upon the different options, I decided to take the one hidden in plain sight: what lies, or at least misconceptions, do people actually have about our sky? Because while the phrase seems to be poetic, lying about the sky can be serious business: it was what Galileo did to save his own life. Here then, is my literal take on the matter: misconceptions about our atmosphere.

The first lie about the atmosphere is that there is a lot of it. Outer space seems a long, long way away and clouds and airplanes fly far above us. But this is in some ways an illusion: while there is detectable traces of atmosphere 100 miles above sea level, it is incredible tenuous. The atmosphere rapidly thins, and above 20 to 25,000 feet, human life is untenable, due to lack of oxygen. The closest post office to me is 2.7 miles away: a short bike ride. If I were to go this distance straight up, I would be at the limit of the portion of the atmosphere that is conductive to life. In biological terms, I would be pretty close to the edge of "space". The entire atmosphere of the earth, if compressed down to the density of the atmosphere at sea level, would probably be around ten kilometers or six miles thick. And even air at sea level isn't that dense: it is about a kilogram per cubic meter, or one-one thousands the density of water. Our atmosphere, if as dense as water, would be a layer 30 feet thick. And the earth itself is five times denser than water: meaning that if condensed to the density of rock, our atmosphere would be 6 feet thick. Six feet is not much when compared to the 4000 mile radius of our earth. Its a thin cover we have over us.

The second lie is the opposite of the above lie: that the atmosphere is not much. We perhaps can remember a time when we were small children and someone explained to us that the air was a real thing, that it wasn't just nothing. The air is thin, it is a small layer compared to the total size of our planet, but it is still very big compared to us. A cubic meter of air weights a kilogram, a cubic kilometer of air weights a billion kilograms, or a million tons. The earth's surface area is half a billion kilometers, and if we extend the earth's atmosphere up 10 kilometers, that means that our atmosphere's mass is 5 trillion metric tons. 5 trillion metric tons of air, constantly moving, expanding, contracting, going up and down, picking things up, putting them down, and somethings accelerating to hundreds of kilometers per hour. I said above that the atmosphere is equivalent to a layer of six feet of rock, but it has much more say in how the geosphere operates than this would suggest. The tallest mountains on earth are six miles high, and the atmosphere is what determines how high they can get. The atmosphere is constantly picking up water, and then depositing it on mountains in the form of snow and rain. In geological time periods, the effects of ice and rain on a mountain can wear it down quite quickly. This is just one small example of the way that the atmosphere, while small, is still large enough to change the surface of our planet.

The third lie about our atmosphere is that it is simple. The "dry" atmosphere of our planet is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, a little less than 1% argon, and then everything else is contained in the last 1 part of 300 that is "everything else", including carbon dioxide, methane and all the other trace gasses. However, this definition of the atmosphere is tautological: these are the parts of the atmosphere that are "clean, dry air" even though the air that actually exists is no such thing. This simplified version of what makes up our atmosphere is a type of "No True Scotsman fallacy": anything in the atmosphere that is not a gas is "not part of the atmosphere". But our actual atmosphere has so much else in it. Water, in its vapor, liquid, and solid form, is always part of the atmosphere. So too is ash and dust, sometimes in great quantities. Many microscopic animals, such as water bears can be found in the atmosphere, transiting across the globe. Close to the ground, the atmosphere is full of chemicals and particles released by living things, as well as by man-made processes. The atmosphere is not merely gas, but a living thing that is a suspension of solid and liquid chemicals in a gaseous medium. If you were to take a cubic meter of air near the surface and to strain out and catalog everything found within it, you would probably have the work of a lifetime to find everything included in that small volume of air.

I hope that this discussion of lies told about the atmosphere has been enlightening. As a final caveat, much of what I wrote here was phrased in terms of spherical cows: this is not a matter of exact scientific descriptions, but rather to get people thinking about the ways we look at the atmosphere. Please message me with any glaring errors I have included.

I

That the blue could bleed black
Punctured, as it was, by the javelins
Of light streaking across the darkness
You see, he says, that one there
His hands, heavy as boulders
From across the entire galaxy
Yet he knew, the perfect pressure
That sun sent a piece of itself
So that I knew he was there
To touch your eye
Like a memory made flesh
I believed so many things
I believed that he fell
Through that beautiful void
And then rose above it
On the same day
The small planes aren’t as safe
But they’re a hell of a lot more fun
If a sun could reach me, I thought
Then surely, so could the dead
Just a little tap on the shoulder

II

I read that the universe expands
As if the days of blue stay the same
While the nights move slowly away
In darkness, an army of stars retreating
And I wondered if heaven moved with it
Its choirs of angels fading, like the siren
Of an ambulance turning the corner

III

A long time ago
Every night I looked through lenses
People believed the gods lived on a mountain
Trying to find his star
And threw down lightning in anger
I learned morse code
And then one day everyone decided
To see which star flashed my name
There was one god, who lived in the sky
One day I stopped
I knew, those phantom hands
Would never return
I knew, that the sky, big as it was
Only had room for our hopes
And our lies

In Mexico, "cielo" (lit. "sky") is a common term of endearment for your significant other, and it's used both for males and females. Indeed, someone might call their spouse "mi cielo", as some sort of poetic shorthand of "you, the sky above my head" or some variation of it. Although I'm not an anthropologist, linguist or psychologist, I have observed that this term is often used as an implication of the omnipresence of that other person in one's life. This sentiment is expressed in a slightly different way on Oscar Hernández's poem "Si no fuera por ti":

Si no fuera por tí, ¿a quién diría
que sigues habitando en mí como la luz habita el día?

If it weren't for you, who would I tell
that you inhabit my self as light inhabits the day?

It's also true that this term is often used the way English speakers might use "honey" and "dear": in a rather casual and loving way, a flexible term that you might use for daily communications and perhaps sometimes in more intimate occasions.


However, every powerful object needs some warnings and words are very powerful things, even in the hands (mouth) of someone who doesn't know how to use them properly. Words can hurt in ways that sticks and stones cannot. You must heed this advice if you are to use even such simple words as "mi cielo".

Heed my words and learn from my experience:

  • Warning #1: When someone calls you "mi cielo", be ware of the context. Context includes (but is not limited to) mood, meaning, intonation, desire, will, expectation and history. It also includes the medium, time and place in which the message is delivered: a mere "I <3 u" in a SMS and saying "I love you" aloud on a dinner date are vastly different things. It might be that the word is used casually by someone who doesn't know the value of words or maybe that someone totally and completely disregards said power the same way most people disregard fairy tales, cautionary tales. Do not assign more value to their words than they do. The sky (that is, you) might not be as big as you think it is.
  • Warning #2: The sky is big, but is not necessarily Great. Some people marvel at the complex world that can only be seen in a microscope and they might see the changing colors of the sky as a distraction at best. Some people are not interested in Rayleigh scattering. The sky is up, but it doesn't mean that it's above everything else.
  • Warning #3: If you move far enough, you'll see something different. There is more than one sky.

Final warning by etouffee: There is more than one sky- and more than Three lies, of course.

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