Those Awesome Night Skies

Those nights on Ocean Beach,
in The City by the Bay,
reminded me that there are other places
where one can see the wonders
of the night sky better,
places without as much light pollution as now,
and now with space debris.

Steinbeck who chronicled
the night skies over the Mohave
for the trip the Joads took in The Grapes of Wrath,
probably enjoyed looking at the stars, like George,
and others, like me, he might have been transfixed
by the moon and stars, and commented also
about the soils of Mars in a letter.

He also thought they were called Lunatics for a reason,
i.e. the moon had an effect on people.
The moon also had an effect on the muse, on women
with three songs he knew with “moon” in the title.
He must have also been amazed by those
wondrous skies in the farm fields of the night,
away from the street lights.

The stars were too far away, and he could
hear the suffering of those nearby,
on Spaceship Earth.

On off nights, he and Ed,
he and one of his wives, must have
looked out at the vast universe.
One could have imagined
that they laughed together, after the party,
after drinks,
wondering about the UFO
they might have seen
over the night ocean.

At times, was Steinbeck not also trying to say that
we were all from the same place,
in a mystery that probably could wait?

Ryder W. Miller About Ryder W. Miller

Ryder W. Miller writes short stories, poetry, and articles about American literature, San Francisco, California, and the natural history of places he enjoys exploring, including Mt. Rainier. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and the co-author of San Francisco: A Natural History


  1. Eric M. Martin says:

    This piece makes me think about a yearning for connection that underscores some of Steinbeck’s most memorable books and characters.

    OF MICE AND MEN is probably the best example of a set of characters looking for a way to give primacy to human connection instead of social economics, but the yearning for connection is there in IN DUBIOUS BATTLE too – and THE MOON IS DOWN and others.

    There is an idea in those works, I think, that says politics and power have regrettably come to define the status quo. So the “suffering of those nearby” can seem like a distant trouble when considered in light of one’s own money trouble, one’s own ambitions, one’s own place in the economic system…

    I think Mr. Miller offers a nice insight into Steinbeck’s character as a writer here, as a person who craved friendship and connection but who also chose a profession that necessarily isolates – one where all the glory and all the failure are focused on a sole individual, the writer. These are distinctly opposed impulses (the social and the creative).

    For my part, if I were to answer Miller’s question about whether or not Steinbeck was saying we are all from the same place in a mystery that could wait, I do think Steinbeck was saying we are all from the same place and suffer the same needs. We can see that from TORTILLA FLATS to THE GRAPES OF WRATH, but I don’t know if the mystery ever waits. There is a great impatience for fulfillment in Steinbeck (fulfillment of what exactly…?) and I think we see it in his most famous characters: Lennie, Casy, Kino, the Trasks.

    Miller is probably right though that Steinbeck may have wished the mystery would wait and maybe even wished it would leave him alone sometimes.

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