“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
– Albert Einstein
As Albert Einstein says, we experience ourselves as separate from others, but in freeing ourselves of this mindset, we create a larger “circle of compassion” to welcome more relationships. 2020 was a year of isolation, but also one of finding new ways to connect with one another. The selections of “Constellate” celebrate the ways that environments and places mediate human connection; they allow spaces for people to connect as friends or strangers. Whether the environment is nature or a bus, it presents a common experience that brings people together, that encourages us to constellate.
An appreciation of nature threads itself through three of the five poems of this chapter. “The Tree” by Rose Henbest is a poem of childhood nostalgia where the greatness of a tree brings together the speaker’s family. The tree is a central image and creates a shared, memorable moment for the family, who are in awe. Weiqi Tang’s “We Don’t Have to Go Too Far” shares the same sort of intimacy while incorporating nature as a backdrop to human connection: two people enjoy each other’s company as they walk together along a trail and make a bonfire in their backyard, appreciating one another in speech, song, or silence. These pleasant moments take place outside, where nature facilitates their connection. Rather than nature creating a shared experience for the characters of the poem, Megan Grounds’ “Dandelions” uses the shared experience of nature to connect with the readers of the poem. The nature of dandelions, their short life cycle, their use for wishes, is knowledge that many readers hold, connecting them to the poem and perhaps evoking memories of picking the flowers themselves. In these three poems, nature offers an environment that cultivates a connection between the characters and between the poem and reader.
The other two poems of this chapter use human-made places as a mediator of relationships. The bus in Henbest’s “After Work” is a space that connects the lives of strangers together. The bus driver, the coughing lady, and the speaker share the experience of traveling home, and while the experience is less intimate than the family’s in Henbest’s poem, “The Tree,” “After Work” demonstrates the web of human lives that become briefly intertwined each evening. In a similar fashion, Tang’s “On a Windy Afternoon” observes pedestrians walking the same windy street and connects the reader to the poem by describing the well-known sounds of the pipes in walls clinking in a fencing match. These two selections use industrial environments as backdrops that bring together characters and readers alike.
The five poems that comprise this chapter exemplify the ability of an environment to mediate connection. Environments and places bring people together like constellations, if only briefly, where we can create ties to one another. In a time when humanity is starving for relationships, “Constellate” is a perfect reminder of how even the smallest interactions are part of a larger web of connection.
Photo by Weiqi Tang