“Wings mark the difference between a mortal and an immortal story.”11
From Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson.
“Gods evidently see reality differently. But it is not surprising if their better version of the truth resists reduction to human measures. They are, after all, infinite beings and ancient thought is imbued with the notion of an incommensurability between their ways and ours.”22
I live on a star whose mass does not always remain constant.
We come to this star after our souls leave the Earth, to care for the animals and for the garden that was here before us. Back on Earth, we would refer to this place as the most mysterious class of neutron star.
The influence of the sun on space and time pales in comparison to that caused by neutron stars.
We do not think about time here, but that does not mean we don’t experience it. It is merely another side of time. Time has many sides, which is to say, it passes differently for everyone and everything.
Time is a much slower pattern for us once we arrive on the star. The animals take longer to reproduce here and the cicadas sing for hours into the morning.
All the animals have wings; chickens, bees, cicadas. Many things are different here on this star, but pollination remains the same.
Time has wings here, too.
Life exists on this star with what Anne Carson describes as the “wing-growing necessity”.
In Eros the Bittersweet, Carson says, “Wings mark the difference between a mortal and an immortal story.”
It is always raining here. Surely, this cannot last forever.
Sometimes I do not have a direct sense of energy if it is not in the form of heat or light.
Huong does not understand why I want to return to Earth. Her goal is enlightenment, to stay upon the star.
“Learning is something that happens within you”, she says. Despite her not understanding, she is okay with me leaving. She helps me train for the journey back, we sing each other songs, and she sings to the chickens while I pray.
While we are on this star together, we help each other take care of it. One day, after training, she tells me that our skin is translucent on this star,
“When light gets in, it bounces around inside,”
“the instincts of this light are much stronger than that on earth.”
“This light will conjure a memory of a person who used to be in this lifetime and make that spirit physically present.”
“There is nothing else known in the sky that does that.”
Sometimes I call her the magical girl, because she has learned, on this star, how to transport light from one place to another. Her skill is in collecting it without damaging any of its strength or capabilities. She picks these cells of light from the garden, to place on the table inside. She arranges them in a calculated sequence, which allows them to take dimension and become a solid form.
Light is like a biography of survival, in that whatever object it passes through, its effects remain lawful and true.
She uses the method of rearranging light to help her understand time on this star as nonlinear. She calls the doctor who tells her, sometimes we do not recognise change for what it is. It happens and we merely observe the star moving, plates shifting, it is all tectonic.
Back on Earth, I worked in factories, I read the news on the radio and I was an interpreter for families in court. This physical labour from many years ago, it stays within me. It does not collapse with time.
The magical girl tells me it is important to remember the history of our individual cells; that even if we think we don’t remember, we do. A cell capable of replication or death or becoming benign is capable of memory.
All memories are in constant motion and they shift in different ways. They can stretch and bend with time.
When I look up at the sky, I assign meaning to it.
The state of the sky may not be a physical surface but rather everything that lies above it. Its character is wide and unending; my memory coils in comparison.
Every physical entity becomes a frontier for understanding another person, which is to say, the magical girl changes every time I look up.
The science of change carries a different process when it comes to matters of the heart. According to the poet Bhanu Kapil, the only way to wash a heart is to remove it.33
I take this to mean that if you want to cleanse a heart, you may have to take away its function and leave both the heart and its carrier without the possibility to change.
Stars bend space and time, and they can sometimes swarm like celestial bees.
This star is a soul between life and death. What a difference a wing makes.
My prayers now feel multiplied and my spirit expanded.
It is raining again. I realise that the sky on this star is not as solid as it can appear, or as I hope for it to be.
This text is an accompaniment to Chi Tran’s exhibition Time after time (8–26 June 2022), at TCB, Melbourne.
‘Time after time’ is a story about two souls after the moment of death. Tran imagines the bardo (the state of intermediate existence) as a neutron star, where two ghosts live and have become the keepers of this star. It is both a prayer and a meandering premonition of how a shared afterlife may feel, sound, and appear.
The title of this text is taken from a chapter title in Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson, first published in 1986. This work was inspired by Anne Carson and Etel Adnan.