Scott Withiam

Remote Stars
July 24, 2020 Withiam Scott

Remote Stars


Look up. There’s Bill,


Jimmy’s mother Lena’s only relative who,
for most of his life did his best to escape people and light,
but finally, seeking the darkest places, found himself
Ohio Stargazer of the Year, 2012, in that year
logging the highest number of remote stars sighted by naked-eye
in Ohio. At the same time,


there’s Jimmy,


most of his life in that night, two thousand miles away, jealous
that success simply settled blanket-like over Bill, as it does everyone, really,
but that night, under the stars, Jimmy so determined
to match


Bill, of all people,


by finding the one faint star, of all things,
which completed the Southern Cross,
but too much light pollution, so then,
to find the name of the star, at that time, Jimmy couldn’t see,


by storming inside
to Google Southern Cross and remote star.
And there, instantly
appearing on his monitor,
so many links to remote starters.


And there’s Lena,


soon after calling Jimmy on his cell. First, consoling—
“Look, Honey, there are times Billy comes up short too,
doesn’t locate one star so heads home
to pick up a bucket.”


And then her “Please come home, Jimmy,
where you can, you know . . .
where there’s always the world’s best take-out,” for sure,


no gleaming stars,
but at least shiny— while hot— chicken starters—
thighs, legs, and wings from the Happy Landing gas station.
That, though, just a little too close to home for Jimmy,
the starters actually scrumptious, fried
to golden perfection, and his mother just deeee-lighted.


Look up delighted


and you’ll get Lena’s Not tickled pink about much,
especially Bill— all she’s ever had nearby—
in his manic Milky Way of dropping by with a bucket
on those nights he can’t locate one stinking star.


And Lena’s other side:


“Maybe Bill’s my last family tie
and he’s finally fallen into place in life,
but he’s forever the hanging reminder
of that side of the family and what it brings.”


It isn’t chicken,


but, according to Jimmy, sometimes,
after you’ve gained a little distance
from the farm, there’s that fowl resignation
in squatting right where you are,
and no matter what your luck
hanging those pictures you like
in your head before instinct tells you
to leave your head out and lose it.


Here’s his favorite:


That too bright night
Bill shows up late at Lena’s door
with a bucket from the Happy Landing.
He and Lena sit opposite each other at her kitchen table,


lights off. Silence,


except for their mouthing of cooled-hard wings,
what they left till last, quickly drop
back into the paper bucket
with a lot of meat still on the bone,


but the whole time their eyes fixed
on blank walls, on the wallpaper,
a tiny flower pattern repeated around
the room, but behind the other’s head,
somehow different. And in that gazing,
there’s no beauty, grace, or gratitude
for an appearance, as there is with remote stars,
just in each other’s face a likeness
which each prefers remains in the dark.


But wait. Out they come.


Bill bought scratch tickets.
He and Lena start scratching away that filmy cover
on their tickets— unsuccessfully— chewed fingernails—
and Lena is out loud hoping to God
that her and Bill’s numbers never match,


yet for scratchers she jumps up and disappears
into the dim recesses of her crammed bedroom,
rummages, reappears with a gallon pickle jar
full of saved-up Canadian ‘Beaver’ nickels,
twelve-sided. “Made of the real deal,
the real deal,” Lena says, “and they’re shined,
shined to their absolute original condition,”


which, Jimmy says, no one ever sighted before,
but him, which in a different contest
would count for a lot, right?

Scott Withiam’s second book of poetry, Door Out of the Underworld, was published by MadHat Press in October 2019. His poems are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Tampa Review, and I-70 Review.