Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Book of Uncommon Prayer, No. 2

Official release date for A BOOK OF UNCOMMON PRAYER is May 1, but you can get it now-Now!-online or from your favorite bookseller.

ABookofUncommonPrayer-MVollmer-cover

Here’s a sample selection, and then below are some direct links to the book, to make it way easy for you.

POST-GAME-DAY BLESSING

Bless the black g-string,
abandoned on the sidewalk
beside a green Gingko
sapling on Lee Street.
Bless the girl who
shimmied out of it
before dawn, drunk
on Curaçao or Triple
Sec or Mike’s Hard
Lemonade. Drunk
on lust and early autumn
and our team’s unexpected
win over Georgia Tech.
Bless our team, all defense,
no offense. Bless everyone
who must have been
downtown last night
with their car flags and
war whoops, mesh jerseys
and micro-minis. Bless
our star quarterback, on fire
with a 14-3 halftime lead.
We are on the first grade
class walking trip to the
library so everyone can
get their own cards. I am
chaperone, which means
herding kids out of traffic,
back over the curb. Bless
the curb, and the kids who
use it as a balance beam.
Bless the magical book drop.
Bless the girl with knotted
hair who tries to stuff orange
leaves into the slot. And
bless the librarian, too, who
reads a book, loudly, clearly,
to everyone about someone
reading a spooky book. Bless
the meta-story, and the mass
of first graders, descending
on the stacks like locusts.
Bless the red solo cups
on the return trip
congregating like plastic
flames, like oversized
maraschino cherries on
the early-morning lawns
of Phi Delt, Sig Ep,
any dilapidated white
house with a porch
couch on East Roanoke
Street. Bless the empty
bottles of PBR knocked
on their sides, mouths
open in wondrous O’s.
O rushing yards. O Bud
Light Lime in your crushed
cardboard case resting
on the elementary school
lawn. Bless my son and
his friend Major, who look
past the blue Trojan wrapper
on Jackson Street, the flattened
Miller Lite can on Bennett,
to the blue butterfly,
to the giant mushroom
blooming in the corner
of someone’s yard. It looks
like a piece of meat, says
my son. Or a tree stump,
says Major, matter-of-factly.
It is a mushroom worth
blessing. And Bless our team
for escaping Bobby Dodd Stadium
with a 17-10 win. Bless us for
being able to hold on despite
the onslaught.

– Erika Meitner

AVAILABLE ONLINE AT

outpost19.com

indiebound.org

powells.com

barnesandnoble.com

amazon.com

A Book of Uncommon Prayer

I’m proud to have a couple of pieces in “A Book of Uncommon Prayer,” out May 1 with Outpost19 Books. Proceeds go to 826 Valencia. It’s good!

A Book of Uncommon Prayer from Outpost19 Books on Vimeo.

We Are Stardust, We Are Golden

we are stardustNice piece by astronomer Ray Jayawardhana in yesterday’s New York Times, “Our Cosmic Selves.” He opens with the line from the Joni Mitchell song that provided me with the epigraph for THE NIGHT OF THE COMET:

“We are stardust, we are golden,
We are billion-year-old carbon,
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

He goes on to discuss how we are all, indeed, made of “star dust”:

“By now, ‘stardust’ and ‘star-stuff’ have nearly turned cliché. But that does not make the reality behind those words any less profound or magical: The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago.”

Here’s the whole piece, for your reading and intellectual pleasure this Easter weekend. Enjoy!

Our Cosmic Selves
APRIL 3, 2015
By RAY JAYAWARDHANA

JONI MITCHELL beat Carl Sagan to the punch. She sang “we are stardust, billion-year-old carbon” in her 1970 song “Woodstock.” That was three years before Mr. Sagan wrote about humans’ being made of “star-stuff” in his book “The Cosmic Connection” — a point he would later convey to a far larger audience in his 1980 television series, “Cosmos.”

By now, “stardust” and “star-stuff” have nearly turned cliché. But that does not make the reality behind those words any less profound or magical: The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the oxygen we breathe are the physical remains — ashes, if you will — of stars that lived and died long ago.

That discovery is relatively recent. Four astrophysicists developed the idea in a landmark paper published in 1957. They argued that almost all the elements in the periodic table were cooked up over time through nuclear reactions inside stars — rather than in the first instants of the Big Bang, as previously thought. The stuff of life, in other words, arose in places and times somewhat more accessible to our telescopic investigations.

Since most of us spend our lives confined to a narrow strip near Earth’s surface, we tend to think of the cosmos as a lofty, empyrean realm far beyond our reach and relevance. We forget that only a thin sliver of atmosphere separates us from the rest of the universe.

But science continues to show just how intimately connected life on Earth is to extraterrestrial processes. In particular, several recent findings have further illuminated the cosmic origins of life’s key ingredients.

Take the element phosphorus, for example. It is a critical constituent of DNA, as well as of our cells, teeth and bones. Astronomers have long struggled to trace its buildup through cosmic history, because the imprint of phosphorus is difficult to discern in old, cool stars in the outskirts of our galaxy. (Some of these stellar “time capsules” contain the ashes of their forebears, the very first generation of stars that formed near the dawn of time.)

But in a paper published in December in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a research team reported that it had measured the abundance of phosphorus in 13 such stars, using data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Their findings highlight the dominant role of so-called hypernovae, explosions even more energetic than supernovae that spell the demise of massive stars, in making the elements essential for life.

More than just atoms were produced in the celestial realm. Growing evidence suggests that interstellar space was also where atoms united to make some molecules pertinent for life. A study published last fall in Science, for example, used computer simulations to establish the provenance of Earth’s water. Its surprising verdict: Up to half the water on our planet is older than the solar system itself. Ancient water molecules assembled in the chilly confines of a gigantic gas cloud. That cloud spawned our sun and the planets that orbit it — and somehow those ancient water molecules survived the perils of the planetary birth process to end up in our oceans and, presumably, our bodies.

Such interstellar clouds may have been well suited for brewing a multitude of molecules. Last fall, in another study published in Science, a research team reported the first discovery in a stellar nursery of a carbon-bearing molecule with a “branched” structure. The detection of this molecule, the researchers wrote, “bodes well” for the presence in interstellar space of amino acids, for which a branched structure is a defining feature. (The researchers made use of a vast, partially operational network of radio dishes being erected on a high-altitude plateau in northern Chile, whose location makes it easier for radio emissions to reach us from the coldest bits of the galaxy, where the alchemy of life is presumed to have begun.)

Astrochemists are excited by this discovery because amino acids, which have been found already in some meteorites, form the basis of proteins. Meanwhile, last month, NASA scientists reported the creation of key DNA components in a laboratory experiment that simulated the space environment. Together, these findings raise the odds that life’s building blocks were concocted in space and blended into the material that formed Earth and its planetary siblings.

Amid the material comforts and the relentless distractions of modern life, the universe at large may appear remote, intangible and irrelevant, especially to those of us who are city dwellers. But the next time you catch a glimpse of the Milky Way in its true glory, from a dark outpost far from city lights, think of those countless stars as nuclear factories and the starless hazy patches as molecular breweries. It is not much of a stretch to imagine the inchoate seeds of life emerging in the distance.