Star Light Star Bright
by Janis Rapoport
You are conceived in violence and passionate explosions. Heat . . . eruption . . . collapse. Star light, star bright, nurtured in your mother’s cloud womb, feeding on swirls of gas. You are hot, hot, hot. Bright in your nursery of dust, you cluster with brothers and sisters, spectacular jewels along your mother’s spiralling arms.
To survive, you fuse your core with celestial energy. You struggle, balance, dance. The universe sings to you: open, grow, believe. Another force is whispering: stay, conserve, contract. While you are a juggler, you are alive. But, when you can no longer, you explode in a furious wind, vanish, your radiant birth reversed into deep, dark death.
And I? I am your photographer, your decoder. I am your memory, your lightprint and shadow. You fascinate: my greatest challenge, and my sacred hope.
Star light, star bright. . .
There was a child, at first just a simple prong of light inside my belly, a belly soon expanding by intervals, curving under the vault of the sky. She was to be called Clara.
And I kept on photographing you, silver piercers of night: the Dippers, the Pleiades, Upsilon Andromadae. Until not, not, not arced across my mind towards those who couldn’t cry or influence or speak, towards guardians whose babies – whose starlight – were womb dwellers, corpses intrauterine.
That’s when Lewis called me all those names, names no husband should ever call a wife. It was all my fault, he said. I was to blame for Clara. . . .
On our honeymoon we went to Israel, to the Dead Sea. We floated, our bodies barely above the water. We swam with starfish who curled their arms in welcome. The air was dense. We could taste the salt. The sand was wet with sparkling. On the way back to the tour bus . . . the pillar . . . Lot’s wife, they said. I wanted to know her real name before labelling the photograph. I looked back through memory . . . the sea . . . the sand . . . urging the pillar to voice her secrets.
A child. . .
In the dark room, after, paper moving beneath the surface of the water, eager for light, for image birth. . . .
Clara. . .
The white border of a photograph is not our final frontier. Nor is the chasm of space where your brightness stretches and stretches.
Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight. . .
There was a child. Her name was Clara. I thought Lot’s wife would have watched over Clara. Lot’s wife, who used to cook for angels. While Clara was taking her final swim through my body, slippery with womb water, doctors and nurses came with their needles, and Lewis with his pills. I was already too drugged to stop him. Then the vortex: dark, spiralling. All night I fought to climb the swirling, millimetre by millimetre.
Finally I folded her newborn limbs into the bone cradle of my arms, her tiny dark curls like miniature starfish curving around my fingers. Her toes were freshly plucked pearls. I placed them around my neck, knowing Clara had travelled through that dark funnel into the precision of your starlight.
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might. . .
Clara was wish perfect. Perfect and newborn. Newborn . . . but not breathing.
This monologue, in an earlier version, was included in The Shiva Box. The Shiva Box was one of ten short pieces produced professionally by the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre with the overall title Ten by Ten: A Minyan of Women at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1996.
The monologue was intensively and extensively revised during a workshop of the Toronto Women Playwrights, that was co-ordinated and directed by Judith Thompson and Sandi Ross in Toronto, Ontario in May 2000. The monologue is currently part of a full-length work-in-progress Star Light Star Bright.
There are four characters in the full-length work-in-progress Star Light Star Bright. These are: Estelle, a 36-year-old childless woman who works as an astronomical photographer; Estelle’s husband Lewis, a 38-year-old successful surgeon with a sub-speciality in men’s genitalia; Estelle’s late mother Leah (whose shiva – seven-day mourning period – is being observed at the start of the play) and Estelle’s octogenarian father Julian who carries on a sometimes spurious law practice even though he has officially retired many years previously.
The time period is the mid-1980s.
Support for Estelle in a series of escalating conflicts with Lewis comes primarily from her late mother Leah even after death. Julian — whose lifelong beliefs and behaviour have been the result of traditional and early right-wing brainwashing — is now questioning some of these assumptions and, consequently, vacillates between supporting his rebellious daughter Estelle and his apparently conservative son-in-law Lewis. Estelle’s monologue will likely occur at the end of Act I or at the beginning of Act II in the finished piece.
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