As Gladys and I continued our steady drift into the comfort zone of non-communication, I became more deeply involved with celestial observation. I had started again in the mid-to-late ‘80s with Ramona helping out.  I continued to pursue binaries, although less in the 1990s, a period rich in the study of comets. Around the time of Beatrice’s letters I’d been pre-occupied with Shoemaker Levy-9 and Jupiter. I’d been periodically following the comet’s extremely elongated path since 1992 when a close approach to Jupiter caused the comet to break into fragments from the planet’s powerful tidal forces. In July of 1994, while Wyatt-Edwin was meeting his mother in Arizona, I observed the first fragment strike the surface, Io hovering above to the right. And though you did not actually see direct impact because the surface was turned away, one could make out the hazy disturbance on the edge of the planet; later the mark of impact became visible. Over the next six days 20 more fragment impacts would occur, a gigantic pummeling, leaving a macule chain across Jupiter’s banded surface.

Two weeks after Wyatt-Edwin flew out to Arizona, I stopped by Laura’s one evening on my way home from work. Some photographs of Beatrice and Wyatt-Edwin had just arrived in the mail. I stared at the color prints of Wyatt-Edwin. In a few he had a yearning and yet slightly uncertain look; in others he appeared perfectly content. I was unnerved, though, at the health and happiness of Beatrice. She beamed at the camera. Virgil managed to be in only one photo with her, and there was another of the three of them together with the mushroom domes of the Empyrean Observatory looming in the background . . . a happy family. I should have been happy for her in her new life, but couldn’t escape the feeling of having been slapped in the face—certainly her abrupt departure and lack of caring had been a slap in the face to Laura and Wyatt-Edwin more than it had been to me, but I was still bitter. Beatrice wore her hair fairly short, which somehow enlarged her heterochromia, the eyes more prominent sans the distraction of hair. She gave Wyatt-Edwin a big strangling hug, as if she would break his spine or draw him back inside her so she could start over again. She had barely aged. I would have expected some lines of cynicism and disappointment on her face, some small road map of her pain these past ten years, but her skin was fine and perfect, tan, unwrinkled. It had never been easy to see the feelings swimming behind those different colored eyes, as if the mood in one eye always negated or canceled out the other, a kind of yin-yang symbol. Even with her shorter hair she was the same alluringly ethereal Beatrice I remembered. In the hard red clay earth of the Arizona desert and mesa, Beatrice still maintained her aura of impenetrable radiance, and yet I harbored resentment towards her. After all, Wyatt-Edwin hadn’t seen his biological mother in over a decade, and he was my son too. I’d often felt helpless in being able to parent him because of my situation with Gladys and Ramona (though there’d been no expectation of my parenting, or co-parenting). I’d never liked the way Beatrice had left Laura with the job of raising our son, though Laura had been doing fine.

And now, at long last, would come the moment of understanding and reconciliation, the mother and child reunion, and all would be forgiven . . .  maybe. Perhaps the degree of someone’s attractiveness unconsciously biased us as to whether or not we’d forgive them. I knew Beatrice would get a pass and a chance at atonement, and that thought angered me in a way I couldn’t quite shake off. Looking at the recent pictures on the mesa, in the desert canyons, I could see that the years had graciously allowed her to evolve her narcissism. Her perpetual self-regard had not been fully formed when we’d first met.



Laura often brought Wyatt-Edwin into Brainchild Scientific. Everyone loved him, watching as he dashed around among the optic wheels, rock polishers, and model dinosaurs. Wyatt-Edwin spent most of his time playing with optics experiments, also with books on stars and planets, and I believed that the store was where the convergence of science and art had begun for him. The store also became the place where we had gotten to spend time together. The boy looked up to me, because I ran the store and knew a lot about the kits, the games and gadgets, frozen creatures, taxonomy, telescopes, mechanics, electricity. My employees, most of whom had never seen Beatrice and knew that Laura was a lesbian, suspected that Wyatt-Edwin might have been my son, but they could not make the connection with Laura, and they never spoke of it. They certainly never said a word whenever I brought Ramona to the store. Though Ramona and Wyatt-Edwin attended different grade schools, Ramona had met Laura, and she and Wyatt-Ediwin may have talked about the store on occasion.

In my son’s excitement, in his serious intention to learn, I saw his mother seven or eight years earlier, and I wondered too if Wyatt-Edwin’s strange and powerful affinity with Brainchild Scientific hadn’t something to do with the fact that he’d been conceived here.


I used to question whether they telepathically knew, whether some tic or quirk in one’s behavior might somehow clue the other one, resulting in a brief, curious stare for no apparent reason, locking the eyes across an auditorium or playing field, the unwitting, impolite looks that kids were inclined to do before adult mores repressed the behavior. Ramona with her long dark hair and brown eyes and perfect smile, her braids, or braid, dangling, flapping as she walks toward the school with girlfriends . . . chatter, giggles, shrieks . . . Ramona almost like a Mexican girl standing in front of a mission chapel . . . and Wyatt-Edwin, fair, blue-eyed, the one who’d inherited both Beatrice’s and my Swedish genes . . . Wyatt-Edwin running on the soccer field with his friends, horsing around, seemingly happy though masking the pain of his mother . . . my blue-eyed son and brown-eyed daughter invoked Beatrice and her heterochromia, as if, in spite of Gladys’ maternity, these two loomed as manifestations of Beatrice and her otherworldly eyes. Kids like a binary star, circling each other from the relative distance of separate schools, their orbits occasionally moving closer on the playground or during a school program. But like most kids, they’d been aware of each other more than I had though.

My mother’s relatives on Long Island still had a pianola or player piano in their house, and all the relatives and I were standing in front of it, in the living room, not far from the front door. A tube of paper and a metal cylinder sprouted tines that looked like small animal teeth. One of my mother’s cousins (don’t remember which one, it was a large family) started the player and it was pure magic, that rickety metallic sound and the older relatives immediately singing along! “A Bicycle Built for Two” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Despite the compromised tone of the player piano you heard the melody, the most needed element for a sing-along. Having come from the World’s Fair and with all the frenzied progress assaulting one’s senses, and all the high-rise projects going up all over the city, and spaceships, and everything made from plastic injection molds, hearing this player piano and the crooning of older simpler tunes was a pleasant and balmy nostalgia, a parasol stroll down the tree-flowered lane into the Past, like Rod Serling’s great and most personal teleplay and story, “Walking Distance.” For better or worse you sensed that, two-thirds of the way through the crazy 20th Century, a huge gulf yawned between the 1960s and the century’s early years when my grandma and her siblings were kids like me. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” compared with the current number 1 chart topper, “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction).” The player piano was pretty much the last vestige of familial solidarity. In the early days it had been the hearth fire with reading and conversation, and maybe later a piano. Then during the gaslight period, a piano in the parlor or drawing room, which in many cases was replaced by a Victrola and then a radio as the family gathered for news broadcasts or their favorite serialized shows. And finally there was television—one television with black and white images and then later color—which provided some of the largest collective experiences of our nation . . . no more.


During his time in the merchant marine my grandfather had made it a point to ride a roller coaster in every port he visited, if there was one to ride: the higher, wilder, and crazier the roller coaster the better. According to family lore, he would ride the coaster once, get off and drink a beer, and then ride again, get off and drink another beer and then ride again, and so on. If he really liked the roller coaster, he would ride it an absurd number of times. Supposedly his favorite one was in Boston, which one night he’d ridden a total of 17 times! And that would have also meant 16 or 17 beers! Most likely he’d stopped after 10 or 12 beers, bearing in mind that he was the ship’s captain . . . were the roller coasters as good in other countries? As safe? I don’t think it would have mattered to him.


She visits at least once a month, more often if it’s a holiday month. She needs me to see that things are alright with her, and I know that they are in spite of me and our past. After the divorce, her mother had resorted to a good deal of brainwashing, but not enough, it seemed, to create a lasting severance between father and daughter . . . . She will graduate in May from Penn, and begin applying to graduate school next year. She’s matured, she’s figured things out, and she still wants this connection, though I question the nature and depth of the connection she seeks. I’m 61 years old and unemployed, and I have little to offer that would help her with her career and life. Ramona wants to become a microbiologist. After all the years I had instructed her to look outward, through a telescope, Ramona’s passion now is to go in the other direction. A microscope.

“You’re stagnating here,” she tells me. “You should take a trip.”

“And where would I go?”

“That’s for you to figure out.”

“Hmm. Maybe after you graduate. . .”

“Perfect! I can house sit while you’re gone.”

She fills the tea kettle with water and places it on the stove, a ritual she follows on most of her visits. She is a beautiful, 21-year-old woman who doesn’t seem to have inherited her mother or father’s genes when it comes to looks.

“How’s Laura, by the way? Have you seen her?”

“Saw her a few weeks ago . . . she’s good  . . . designing web pages . . . has a girlfriend.”

“I’m glad that she picked up marketable skills before your business died.”

“Me too. Laura’s been through a lot.”

Ramona stares at me. A wry turn of her mouth.

“Haven’t we all.”

The conversation switches to Wyatt.

“He may go out there to live next year. He wants those night skies,” she says.

“Really? He paints from NASA Hubble images! Maybe he wants to be closer to his mother.”

“You’re in your 60s now,” she says to me, “and years ago you had some pretty incredible experiences. You don’t need to work. Treat yourself for a change. Travel. Visit a few observatories.”

“I gave that up, remember?”

“You’re being stubborn and silly. Start again. You’ve left the glass room exactly as it was when you stopped looking through telescopes, except for the ‘tropical rain forest.’ You could start again at any time, with or without moss and lianas, and parrots! Find yourself!”

The cliché sounds more like a threat.

“I look at stars nearly every night,” I remind her.

“Yeah, outside with the naked eye.”

“And what’s wrong with that?”

“’You are so Scandinavian. Gloomy. Look, it’s ‘Haleing’ The sky has taken on that weird hyper-ionized tint.”

I’m well aware that, because of our past, Ramona likes to indulge her sarcasm at my expense, and I am not offended or angered. There is mild reproach in her voice, though the reproach is more reasoned and gentle than the punishing shrillness of her mother. Late February and March is not a particularly good time for her or me when I think of it. Though five years ago at this time I’d hung on every detail of Comet Hale-Bopp and became totally preoccupied with the comet, Ramona had stopped observing the comet with me. By early 1997 she had lost all interest in astronomy in spite of my cajoling her to join me, because Hale-Bopp was approaching perihelion. By the summer of ‘97 she and her mother had moved out and I swore off telescopes, as if it had been some nasty habit of 35 years. Instead, I started to fill the glass room with plants. I brought in Vincas, Philodendron and Cylamen then added several palms, Philodendron, Cymbidiums, African Violets, Anthurium, Birds of Paradise, giant cut leaf Ferns, Rubber Plants, Bromeliads. Over time the room assumed a jungle-like character: rank foliage obscuring the mission-style table stacked with my star charts and maps, untouched for four-and-a-half years or more; giant ferns and cut leaf towering to the ceiling, vines and tendrils  coiling around and ensnaring the silver barrels of the smaller telescopes, a fascinating juxtaposition contrasting the cold inorganic elegance of astronomical science with the Edenesque organic fertility of earth. A year later I acquired a couple Macaw parrots to match the tropical decor. I named the parrots George and Gracie though I never intended on using the pair for breeding purposes. At night they mostly sleep outside their cage on the limb of a rubber plant or palm tree. I occasionally find hardened droppings on a telescope, but I no longer care.

Ramona has a passion for poetry and poets. Odd, for a would-be microbiologist, or maybe her passion is not that odd as a means of self-examination. She likes to quote the famous poem of Yeats where “. . . things fall apart/the center cannot hold . . .” She tells me those lines make her think of our family, including Laura, Wyatt-Edwin, and also Beatrice. She isn’t sure, in our case, that things actually did fall apart, and prefers to view it as a rearrangement, and one where the gravitational glue is stronger than ever. It’s possible. The laws of attraction are not always predetermined. Anarchy and order, motion, entropy, may all be willed illusion. The atomic and sub-atomic levels are in constant flux.



“I need a place to live.”

“I thought we’d already established that.”

“Kind of. I mentioned house sitting for you. Not exactly a plan. I need somewhere to live during the summer and maybe through next fall until I can get a place of my own.”

“Tired of your mother?” I ask.

“A little . . .” She finishes her tea and stands up to take our cups to the sink. “The problem is Bert.”

Bert is Gladys’s new husband, a middle manager (Director? VP?) at her marketing firm.

“He’s kind of weird,” Ramona explains. “Not like the way you’re weird, but controlling, uptight, rigid, inflexible, with draconian rules, like their house is a place for him to try out models of boorish efficiency.”

I laugh.

“He never had children,” Ramona adds. “Maybe that’s the reason.”

“And Mom?”

“She had children—a child.”


“Mom is mostly indifferent to my presence.”

“Lovely . . . does Bert pay attention to her? Does he treat her well?”

“I don’t know . . . she seems happy.”

“You can stay here as long as you like,” I tell her.

“Thank you!”

“And I may not be here much of the time.”

“That’s fine with me.”

“I plan on travelling . . . your suggestion, remember?”

“Please don’t think I have some ulterior motive to get you out of the house.”

“What’s his name?”

My comment breaks her up, penetrates to the core of her wit, though her laughter is a bit excessive, a result, perhaps, of nervous truth. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I know she had lovers in college (don’t know how many), and I wonder who among them had heard the story. I doubt she would have bothered to divulge. But what will happen when it’s a long-term boyfriend, or even a husband? What, if anything, might he eventually hear in the hoarse night whispers of flesh and pillows? And how will she shape and set up her narrative? How does one risk bringing that bleak subterranean information to the surface without fear of violent censure? Without fear of immediate rejection and loss?

“I’m not seeing anyone at the moment,” she says, ominously.

One night she’d worked late, and had only drunk one glass of wine when she decided to go outside and walk in the desert. It was freezing cold and she had wrapped herself in his jacket. She recalled how in her dream the stars had all begun to fall like snow, and she now stood on an expanse of snow, a fine glittering mantle settling on the desert plateau for miles in every direction. On each corner of the plateau stood someone important from her life: North was Virgil; Soren in the East; Laura in the West; Wyatt to the South. The figures stood unmoving, like pieces on a chessboard. She called their names, and the calling of their names lingered and floated up on the black tide, floated up to the Dog and the Hunter.  They approached her in a short line, and one by one stepped up and stared at her without saying a word, only the eternal stare, and she began to weep, trying to hug everyone but the shapes were mist and vapor, and putting her arms around the ghost of Virgil made her cry the most. The snow then began to race under her feet, a swift white carpet, and she walked faster, taking long fast steps for fear of falling as if she were on a flat escalator in an airport. And as she strode, members of the tribe appeared alongside her: two at first, flanking her, soon others, dozens more, keeping pace with her on the racing snow and whispering, a hastened sibilance, a recitation, words that sounded absurd and meaningless, like dream gibberish, and yet somehow healing her, strange balm for her aging soul, voices high and low, soprano, alto, and baritone, a choir of whispers, in pointed rhythm, in tones meant to heal and not the words themselves, arbitrary symbols designed specifically for the listener . . . Animals then joined the people: coyotes, bears, cougars, dogs, hawks, owls, ravens, crows, buzzards, sparrows, grackles, lizards, snakes, spiders, scorpions. They eventually took their leave of her—men, women, children and beasts. The racing snow abruptly stopped, and she stepped off the edge of the plateau and into outer space.

She was drifting slowly down through the void and somehow buoyant on thin air, like a cork on water, a state of near weightlessness. She waved her arms. At one moment, instead of falling, she realized she was ascending, though it was difficult to get her bearings. She saw a distant object and felt herself being pulled toward it. The object enlarged, became a giant cylinder, and she recognized the Primum Mobile telescope and was relieved at the sight of a life raft that may carry her to safe harbor. She floated toward the telescope as if  pushed by a divine breath. She grabbed a spoke of an adjustment wheel about as wide as she was tall, and hoisted herself up, a tiny pointless creature on the enormous, slowly turning barrel, a grand silver lathe immersed in the coal black sea of space. But she kept slipping, losing her footing, so she lay down on her stomach, making an X with her arms and legs, gripping the gleaming alloy skin of the telescope as it traveled through her universe. The cylinder’s turning had been steady and gradual and eventually she found herself on the underside of it and could no longer hang on. And out of the darkness Virgil’s voice whispered to her that it was okay, even beautiful, for her to let go, and she slid off the giant Primum Mobile telescope and slowly fell backwards through space, though there was no bottom, no landing for her, simply the chance of another object eventually passing by that she might reach and cling to for a time.

The vision had caused her to pass out. Later, she would understand that she’d likely succumbed to an epileptic seizure. Sunrise was breaking on the desert, and she felt cold and near death. There was a slight rigid pressure against her forehead, and she opened her eyes to find a scorpion perched there. Beatrice casually brushed the scorpion away. She then stood up and began to walk toward the horizon, toward her star, the sun.

*[SEE EARLIER POSTS 2013-2014]

I walked back to my small house on Southeast 34th between Salmon and Hawthorne. I figured Lovejoy’s murder was likely the work of a cult, but I didn’t have any idea as to which cult it might be—there were many to choose from in the Pacific Northwest. Portland is riddled with cults: Moonies, Chanting Buddhists, Heaven’s Gate, Born Again Christians, Moses David Born-Agains, Krishnas, Scientologists, Seventh-Day Adventist splinter groups, followers of “The Two” and others. You might also agree that the Masons are a type of cult.

And cults were making it difficult for me to do my job. They swarmed the streets, especially the downtown blocks, or near Burnside, or in the Northwest section, the largest transient population. The cults preyed on young, homeless street kids, or sometimes better-off-but-searching middle class kids with expensive backpacks, who were just passing through town on a tour of the West Coast. Often the predator had once been the prey himself, maybe only a few weeks earlier, before his or her brains were washed. The psychologist or sociologist will tell you it is the need to belong, the need for family, for group identity, for community, and those theories are undeniable, but there is usually more to it than meets the eye. Everyone’s story is unique.

I entered my house. The phone was ringing.

Corno . . .

“Why don’t you come back to work for me,” he said, sounding more like a command than a request.

“I’m fine where I am, D. And I’m still working for you, indirectly.”

“I guess you take this murder personally. Were you and the victim close?”

“No, not really,” I told him. “But Lovejoy was married to my mother, and I do care about her.”

“You know, I’m long past firing you over the Shad Run case. You overreached that time, Juan. We had the killer, but you defended the tribe, you fucking bleeding heart. You had no place doing that. The poor Indians, or—excuse me—‘Native Americans.’”

“It was out of our jurisdiction,” I said. “A federal case.”

There was brief silence on the other end of the line.

“Come back,” Corno said. “You’re like a son or a little brother to me.”

“I’m touched.”

“You’re telling me you lived with this man, who was your stepfather and a notable personage in the city, for almost a decade, and you knew practically nothing about him? Cut me a break.”

“Pretty much. My stepfather was hardly ever around and he didn’t care about me anyway.”

Aw . . .”

“My feelings aren’t hurt.”

“No shit . . . so, whaddya wanna do? Are you going to try and find the killer or not?”

“I haven’t been retained by anyone.”

“Maybe your mother will hire you.”

“That’s very good,” I said, laughing into the phone. “Cute . . . Witty . . .”

“You are fucking weird,” Corno said.

I was inclined to agree.

“You know, with your veteran’s status,” he added, “you could easily pick up a cushy government job, or steady police work with opportunity for advancement, like me. You do want to marry eventually and settle down, don’t you? Why are you a free agent? So you can fuck pretty girls with no bureaucrats from internal affairs up your ass all the time?”

There was a touch of jealousy in his last comment.

I passed what was left of the morning and most of the afternoon doing not much of anything. By late afternoon I poured myself a tall glass of Scotch, lit a Lucky Strike non-filter, and read for a while. I read Jung mostly, and a smattering of Gide, Huysmans, and Theodore Roethke (I was restless). I mulled over the Beowulf clue.  I made a vegetable stir fry with bulgur wheat for dinner. There’d been a shower earlier and in its wake the sky had taken on a curious mixture of turquoise, orange, and mauve.

In a way, detective Dore’ Corno had been like a father to me, or at least a mentor, and his tough guy jibes were meant to be fatherly. Everett Lovejoy, on the other hand, had been inaccessible, judgmental, and simply cruel with his off-the-cuff remarks: “You eat like a Spaniard.” Or: “I honestly don’t know what your mother sees in you . . . maybe a little of that greaser trumpet player.” He had an aura of displeasure about him, as if he were perpetually being forced to smell something awful. One time, when I’d gotten arrested for speeding well above the speed limit on 82nd Street, all he’d managed to say was, “You really are as stupid as I’d always thought you were.” I was 17 then.

But Lovejoy’s chilly opprobrium may have been preferable to my biological father, who’d basically left me with nothing in the paternal realm and never once tried to make contact with my mother (why would he?), and had no knowledge of my existence. I even wondered if he remembered their one-night liaison. Although Lovejoy had made no secret of hiding his dislike for me. He’d been a well-paid executive at _____________ and had provided for my mother, Victoria, and my much younger half-sister and me. Growing up, I’d repeatedly asked myself what type of man was better: The miserable, hateful son-of-a-bitch who’d taken care of me, or the potentially “great guy” and artist who’d fucked up my life from the get-go and still passed his days oblivious in the sunshine of L.A. or Catalina or Guadalajara. Honestly, I should have been investigating the disappearance of Sanchez de Fuca, trumpet player and womanizer extraordinaire, instead of the murder of Citizen Everett Lovejoy. Sanchez was the real fucking mystery.

There wasn’t a great deal of difference between life after death and life before death among the Pueblo Indians, and particularly the Zuni people to whom he belonged. The Zuni believed that the dead remain in the house for four days and their spirit present during this stage can be threatening and possibly harmful. After four days the spirit travels to a village-katcina and joins their deceased group of family and friends. In some villages the wife is allowed to join the male after she dies. The Zuni have no sense of punishment or atonement as do the Hopi. No Heaven or Hell, no duality in their belief system.

He was buried with the standard fetishes (etowi): cornmeal and feathered ears of corn, black prayer sticks, healing stones, kachina, two masks.

They had read the writings of Carl Jung to one another, taking turns by firelight. Three nights before his accident and death, his mother had come to him in a dream. She’d been dressed in ceremonial costume and stood near a large well. An altar had been placed in front of her, and a fish lay upon it. His mother had then gutted the fish and cast the entrails down into the well (where they’d splashed after a long descent) but kept the head. She’d lifted the fish head so he could see it clearly, and said: “Only this can save you!” His mother was Christian, having converted to Roman Catholicism while he was in his teens, and she’d been buried with all the ritual attending the Catholic Mass. She’d been a bit too dismissive of his mother and the dream: “A fish head? Really?” but was bothered by the recent tense furrows that darkened his face.

She’d kept his favorite jacket—light brown leather with a fleece lining. The jacket still held his scent, and also the scent of the elements it had protected him from over the years, and even a trace of the small cigars he occasionally smoked, but mostly she could smell his whiskered neck and jaw where it had abraded the turned-up collar, a shade lighter and buffed by the constant friction of his jaw. Out on the plateau in the circling winds and sky, she had often buried her face in his jacket collar, holding him for warmth, feeling the current of his being arcing through her. Many nights she would clutch the jacket under her blanket, inhaling and drawing him deep into her lungs, stroking the arms and back and front of it, running her fingers against the wool where so many times she’d plunged her hands under the jacket to warm them on his torso—so many fine and stolen moments.


With all the Friday traffic, we didn’t arrive at the cemetery offices until five minutes till four when the office closed. I told the mortuary representative who greeted me that I was looking for my parents’ graves. It had been eight years since I’d been here, and I couldn’t remember exactly where the plot was located. The representative was a well-dressed woman in a gray business suit, pleasant but reserved and somewhat guarded. She may have been put out by my end-of-business request—the business of the dead. She stepped into another room to find the location of the family plot and print out a map. The office was about to close . . .  I waited . . . I read something hanging on the wall: a long paragraph about a man who’d lived centuries ago in the middle east, and was a carpenter, and hadn’t done much with his life until his death at the age of 33. I was so weary from driving all afternoon that it took maybe 15 seconds before I realized the Catholic homily was talking about Jesus, the message being how much God as the Son, the man who hadn’t done very much on the surface, had ultimately changed everything. The woman from the mortuary returned with the map, and drew a circle for me around the family plot, and explained how to find it (finding the plot would soon prove to be a great deal more difficult than her tidy explanation). I asked her if I could use a restroom, and she appeared amused by my request, though I found nothing amusing about it, maybe I had a look of desperation—my bladder certainly wasn’t amused! With a complicit smile, the woman directed me to use the one in the conference room.

The sky was dark as lead at 4:00 on an August afternoon; air charged with electricity, thunderstorm just minutes away, and M. and I were wandering among the graves, searching for my parents, to no avail. The problem was that the graves hadn’t been well maintained, the cemetery grounds crew could only do so much, and ongoing maintenance and care was the responsibility of the families and/or loved ones. I was reminded of the scene at the beginning of “Night of the Living Dead” when Barbra and Johnny are at their father’s gravesite and Johnny is trying to spook Barbra by playing a zombie (“They’re coming for you, Barbra.”) until a real zombie approaches from out of nowhere, kills Johnny, and begins eating him. We had the perfect setting for a horror flick, but there was no horror here, only frustration. And we were visiting in the exact same time of year, almost to the day where, a decade earlier, I stood on this hill looking at the grave of my father, and then looked down the hill at my mother leaning against the car, still very much alive but unable to climb the gradual hill because of her polio leg and slippery grass. A year later, again, almost to the day, we buried her in the place where I now stood.

M. finally found them. A miracle! I had thrown out a couple more family names and she had discovered a grave with the name “Edythe Manss” my great aunt Edie and that meant my parents were close by. We tore away the grass that had partially grown over their names. What struck me at the time, after this crazy searching in the cemetery, was the impersonal character of it all. I don’t know, maybe we were in a hurry, and it was extremely hot and humid and on the verge of a massive storm. I looked at the markers, at the names of my mother and father, just names and dates like the rest of the stones and plaques that crowded this earth, though it had been more than that, much more. The  “more” lives on in my memory.

They never visited me in my dreams, never guided me or offered a revelation from the hereafter, or even a simple “hello.” But I do think of them. I keep pictures.

We left the burial grounds and headed to a local Shop-Rite, which had a bathroom for washing the soil and grass stains from our hands, and also a liquor store. Rush hour on a Friday afternoon, oppressively humid August misery, scurrying crowds, growl of thunder. Waiting for M. to come out of the bathroom, I recalled that, on this same street my parents would take me for ice cream custard summer nights at a Dairy Queen type of place, and across the road there was a German-American restaurant where the extended family (three of whom were in that family plot besides my parents) would go for sauerbraten and ox-tail soup on New Year’s Day. On the spot where I now stood there’d once been a chalet with an ice skating pond, and nearly six decades later, I waited for M. with those late 1950s memories and the present moment light years apart.

She would treat the silver — hammer, bend, shape, twist, braid — then work on settings, turquoise mostly, but also garnet, moonstone, jade and amber, occasionally lapis-lazuli. Out there turquoise was the stone of choice. Navajo country, after all.

He’d taught her well, though he always had a natural affinity for the material and a mastery of craft that she would never attain. A number of people had told her her pieces were as good as his, but she wasn’t fooled by their praise, didn’t believe it for a second. Any trained eye could detect the subtle Pueblo esthetic and consummate workmanship of her late husband.

The various hues and lusters of her gems, scattered across the work table, were like the stars in their different magnitudes and colors.

It was a lonely place. No, not lonely—solitary—more like the silent deafening choir of the heavens each night. She wasn’t lonely among the tribe, among the people, even when she hadn’t seen anyone for a few days, or a week, other than the tourists who stopped to appraise her wares. Many of the pieces had originally been made by him, and she had finished some of his pieces herself while others would always remain unfinished. She took her time completing a piece he had started, and she wasn’t always as careful or meticulous with her own work. All of it brought her a sense of calm, of serenity, but also pain, exquisite pain that she could never quite find the words to describe, like a hard growth as big as a fist that lived inside her.

Things were different now, much different. She knew that in her skin and marrow.

For seven years they had the sun, had it together, felt like they had it all to themselves, on climbs and hikes, exploring the ancient arid clay, the timeless geologic formations that only deceptively appeared timeless. Everything would eventually reach its end, including her, and him, long before the mesas crumbled. At the time she’d given little thought to mortality. She was in her 30s, alive and happy, and in love, living with a man whom she would never have imagined living with, in a place where she had never dreamt of being.

She’d returned to drinking after he died. Although long past other means of getting high, drinking still offered her a refuge of numbness and temporary amnesia, and a hastened certain drift to unconsciousness each night. She rarely started while working on her jewelry. She needed her eyesight and didn’t want her vision to fog or blur when handling small fragile stones and metal. Then once her work had ended for the day, she would allow the wine or beer (usually wine, except in extreme heat) to take charge. It was the easiest thing in the world to do, and besides the sheer narcotic pleasure of alcohol coursing through her veins, drinking heavily removed any sense of accountability from her life. Although there were times when I might have gladly embraced some gesture of remorse or penance from her, or maybe a simple heartfelt apology, such a gesture had never reached me, and I’d learned to accept that it probably never would.

In the fall of 1980 PBS Television ran the mini-series, “Cosmos” with Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan. Overnight, Brainchild Scientific was busier than it had ever been in the 18 years since I’d started working there. Telescope orders were pouring in, and a great number of people—would-be astronomers and their families—walked the floor and asked myriad questions about astronomy and telescopes. The show’s popularity was undeniable, and I tried following it at home whenever I had a free minute. Gladys and I were so busy with Ramona that couldn’t always catch an episode of “Cosmos” between diaper changes, cleaning, and foraging. My ecstatic mood over “Cosmos” caused a minor conflict on the domestic front.

“But you know all this stuff,” Gladys protested. “and it’s somewhat dumbed down or certainly below your level of knowledge.”

She was right, but the beauty and excitement of the show for me was that popular culture had seized upon astronomy. Astronomy, thanks to Carl Sagan, had become cool and fun, and Sagan was a master popularizer. He put his erudition and passion on display without talking to his audience. In the style of the best science teachers, professors and popularizers through the ages, Sagan dreamed and imagined and made the audience dream along with him. He deftly and creatively narrated the history of Astronomy and the great figures and discoveries (Galileo, Tycho, Copernicus, Hershel, Einstein, etc.) and in spite of the distance we’d come in our understanding of the heavens, he reminded us that we were still more or less in the infancy of our knowledge. Gladys was right about my already knowing a lot of the nuts and bolts, but the show had offered validation of my love of astronomy and the business of making and selling telescopes. With “Cosmos” I lived another birth in my soul to enhance the births of my daughter and son.

But I was so busy with the store and parenting, that I sometimes fell asleep in the armchair before an episode of “Cosmos” had ended, and I was reminded of the “life stuff” which can and does interfere with major astronomical events. I recalled that 11 years earlier I’d gone through a similar period of attention deficit, during the first moon landing though for an entirely different reason. Back then I’d been doing a few drugs, hanging out with college kids and having sex with co-eds. While my mind back then had been elsewhere, in the present my focus was on being a father and everything it entailed. Yet these two astronomy events weren’t really in the same league. Apollo 11—the first moon landing—was historically huge, monumental, “a giant leap for Mankind. . .” whereas “Cosmos” was still, at bottom, an entertainment and marketing juggernaut. What they shared was a moment in time when the stars and space exploration loomed large in the public imagination, and while I had spent most of my adult life engaged in amateur astronomy and telescopes, I found myself disconnected during these larger collective events. During the big events I’d been tricked into “living.” No small thing. Any look into the heavens takes your gaze away from earth and vice versa, and one can never really be in those two places at the same time. An added irony with Carl Sagan and “Cosmos” was that I’d often been missing the phenomenon while indirectly being in the service of its success.