A Geography of the Heavens

One of Emily Dickinson’s school books – Burritt’s Illustration of constellations from The Geography of the Heavens, 1856.

The working title for my current memoir – a meditation on my exile and love affair – was A Natural History of the Sky – the sky being a running motif throughout the narrative for many reasons (natural history, art history, magical realism, dreams, astrology, etc).

With chapter titles ranging from “Miranda Pirouetting on a Zephyr” to “Star-Gazing with Hades” to “Hunt your Lullaby” and “Dancing at Land’s End” (in a storm), it was clear that the sky (or mighty pagan heavens) had to be my sidekick protagonist.

Also, in both German and Italian – my two adopted (butchered) languages – the word for sky is synonymous with heaven. In Italian, cielo is both sky and heaven. So the leap from sky to heaven in my title was just a matter of interpretation. The heavens hold the “houses” I was born into, too – and explain why I have no home now…

Sean created a cardboard heaven for us years ago and hung it every place we’ve ever lived – a “beyond” heaven more spectacular than even angels could hope for, a special place that would be ours alone in the margins of paradise. Not quite outcast, but not quite in heaven either. Angels just slightly on fire.

My younger daughter brought me to visit Emily Dickinson’s grave last month, which really sealed my resolve. I used to live across the street from the Dickinson Homestead on Main St. in Amherst, MA – in the Robert Frost house ages ago.



 I decided that the old astronomy book’s title is the perfect one for my memoir – a mythology / cosmology in prose based on Emily’s fantastic bestiary of the heavens; a memoir of exile in which anecdotes and myths float past one another in the night sky.

Yeah, feels right.

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