Praying to Lyra
Praying to Lyra
by Bailey Gaylin Moore
The only astronomy course I took was in my undergrad—a summer class with weekly trips to the observatory if weather permitted. Nearly a decade later, I can only place constellations if the time is midsummer and my location is home. Each July, thick Ozarks heat clings to my skin, and Lyra watches me from the east. Each July, I hope its brightest star, Vega, can tell I’m shining stronger than I was last year’s July. Or: I hope Vega thinks I’m not doing too bad this time around.
At the observatory that summer, the ancient professor would point to summer constellations with a laser, and students would follow a trail of beamed red outlining the imagined lines of Cygnus and Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor. We formed around him—silent, heads tilted toward the sky—as we went from constellation to constellation, starting with my sacred Lyra. The ancient professor beamed red light along the constellation’s edges. Orpheus’s lyre thrown to the heavens.
As a whole, we shifted our feet toward each new constellation, our heads tipping away from the east and toward Scorpius in the south, stopping halfway to trace lasered lines in the shape of a kite: Bootes, the Herdsman, complete with two hounds and a club. On his left foot sits Arcturus, a guardian of the bear. “The bear being Ursa Major,” the ancient professor explained, and we tilted our heads to keep up with the red beam, towards the north.
Later that summer, I’d show my son each constellation, starting with Lyra. My finger outlining the lyre’s body, taking shape in the form of a parallelogram. I’d tell Beck how, even though it’s a small constellation, it has one of the brightest stars. What I’d never tell him: how, in a dream that summer, I sat on the edges of one side of the parallelogram, and Orpheus the other; how—when I yelled across the void—the words dissipated into the space between us. And I’d never mention the way I woke up grasping to remember the message. Besides, can you actually remember the structure of words and sentences in dreams?
I worried about my son growing older and forming the same anxieties. He was seven, so I figured I had time. And because I couldn’t pray to anything else, I started praying to Lyra. I’ve never told anyone any of my prayers, even the simplest one: Please don’t let Beck be like me. It’s an anxiety I already knew the answer to, confirmed in every moment I recognized myself in him: how he titled his head toward the night sky, the way his eyebrows narrow when he learns something remarkable.
I never prayed whenever blankets of clouds hid the night sky. Perhaps it’s because I need to see something fully to know it fully sees me back. Or maybe it’s because, on clouded evenings, I’m forced to be present in the world in front of me, and, these days, the world around me feels alien. Lately, clouded evenings sound like this: a fraternity house down the street filled to the brim with too-drunk bros and scattered sirens, a woman yelling, a man yelling louder. Maybe I don’t pray when the night sky is hidden above blankets of clouds because what’s buried underneath is a city of the dead, catacombs of a world that could have been. In order to pray, perhaps I need the brightness of something bigger than what I have pretended to be.
A prayer to Lyra is a prayer for the scattered Orpheus. The words fall out of my mouth without a trace of sound, soft wisps creating some form of remembrance.
Sorry, Orpheus, for your mistake in looking back, I say as a woman.
But what I really mean to say is: Sorry, Orpheus, for not knowing who I am yet. I would have turned back, too.
Even before Lyra, my prayers always felt more like apologies.
Sorry, god, for being uncomfortable with myself, for not knowing who I am yet, I’d say as a girl.
Perhaps I pray to summer constellations over a semblance of god because, if they could, the myths caught in the sky would tell me, I understand, and, to me, that feels more like forgiveness.
I started praying more last year, even when Lyra wasn’t in view. I prayed on clouded nights, during the day, in the winter months when Vega was absent altogether.
The stars were hidden from sunlight whenever I received the voicemail from my son’s school. My stomach dropped at the missed call, already knowing the recording was about to confirm that my simplest prayer hadn’t been answered. The words grew hazy—something about a lack of color, the weight of anxiety, something about an alarming text a friend reported to the counselor.
It’s snowing in Vermont now—thick flakes that take their time falling from a sky empty of color. I’m here for my graduation residency, but the ten days hardly feel congratulatory without Beck here because of school.
Over the phone, I tell him how I wish he could see the Vermont snow.
“See those fat flakes?” I joke, switching cameras so he can. His face lights up on the other side of the screen, laughing back the words fat flakes.
“Looks nice,” he says. “Wish I could be there, too.”
I smile it’s okay.
What I don’t mention: how the Vermont snow is a whiteness you could fade into, and, if you are quiet enough, no one would ever know you were there. I won’t tell him how it’s difficult for light to pass through snowflakes because of its translucence, its lack of color, nor will I mention how a new friend just explained why snow brings a particular quiet, the noise of the world folding into the space between those fat flakes. It’s a kind of quiet all too familiar for a person carrying a particular kind of sadness, moments when our minds are filled to the brim with thick thoughts that can also absorb sound if you let yourself fade into it all.
A fact about snow to save I’ll tell Beck later: BBC Earth taught me how there are many sides to a snowflake. Even though it’s difficult for light to pass through, the colorlessness causes light to reflect off of its body, its multiple sides “scattering light in many directions, diffusing the entire color spectrum.” In a whiteout, the whiteness of clouds layered with the whiteness of snow diffuses light so heavily a shadow can’t exist.
Lyra will be gone for most of the snow, but Vega’s light will peak through again in April, and, with it, we’ll see some color. Another year where I’ll trace its parallelogram, showing Beck the lyre’s lines. Maybe he’ll roll his eyes when I remind him: Even though it’s a small constellation, it has one of the brightest stars. Perhaps he will entertain me, narrowing his eyebrows after an emphatic, “Really?”
Whatever his response, I’ll laugh. Eventually he’ll laugh, too. Under my breath I’ll say a prayer—this time for Orpheus and ourselves, soft wisps of thanks scattering across the night sky, the words settling in the spaces between us.
Bailey Gaylin Moore is currently a Ph.D. student studying creative writing at the University of Missouri. She serves as the online editor for the web series Past-Ten.com, and her essays have appeared in AGNI, Willow Springs, Hobart, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. You can find more at www.baileygaylinmoore.com.