The wind has died and the stars are breaking through the haze of city lights. Sixty degrees at eight o’clock in the evening, and I am breaking a sweat in my coat. The dog trots ahead in the darkness, weaving across yards, following the scents of hidden creatures that have passed this way before. We round the corner and climb the hill, past the Russian Orthodox Skete tucked into the row of ramblers and split levels, distinguished only by the incongruence of the wooden gate, and the small Orthodox cross atop the roof. The dog sniffs out the wild garden growing in the front yard, and somewhere in the darkness, the burning eyes of icons watch us pass. My breath grows heavy, and my footsteps slow as we climb the hill.

Above the stars strain to shine through, and I try to make out the familiar shapes of constellations. Here in the city the figures of men and animals are incomplete specks of light, waiting for a divine hand to sweep away the screen of city light that keeps them hidden like sacred mysteries. I have seen the priests before, taking out their trash, looking like anachronisms in their long gray beards. How did they end up half a world away from their Russian home, on this frozen prairie? Three hundred years after Hennepin and the Jesuits, they have come to minister to a handful of immigrants trying to hold onto their past. We pass in the dark, silent as savages.

My eyes surrender to the haze, and my mind wanders back down to the streets around us. The windows of homes glow with the flickering blue of televisions, and honey yellow incandescence. The dog pauses, and whines at something hidden, still as an icon in the shadows. I listen, but there is only the chant of cars passing on the highway. I give the leash a shake and we continue on our round.

How many seasons has it been? How many times have we circled these streets through the exile of winter, the soft promise of spring, the erotic embrace of summer, and the warm parting kiss of autumn? Sniffing the scents on the night air, listening to the rustle of leaves and the hollow call of owls, searching the branches of oaks for their silhouettes. We repeat this journey like pilgrims, returning again to search the sky for the answers surely hidden behind the sheltering heavens.

The Comet Kohoutek


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