Since I’ll probably never be using this introduction again, I’m sharing part of the conference I gave at the UPRH last October, for everyone’s pleasure – of this sort of thing pleases you.
“Why Stars Like Fish?” is a question I am asked very often, not only by people who are looking for clues before reading it, but also some who have already read it entirely. I’ve probably been unfair when answering to both, with replies such as a very secure “well, if you read it I’m sure you’ll get it” – or the distressed and insecure “really, you read it and you didn’t get it?”
When naming the book, I never gave it much thought. Images of stars and fish are recurrent in my writing, and they share many similarities in their symbolism. I suppose I overlooked the fact that “Stars Like Fish” is a poetic line in itself, one that invites interpretation (whether a conscious or unconscious one).
For those who expect an explanation on how stars are in any way like fish, or how fish can be possibly be similar to stars might be disappointed. Yes, there are stars in the book as well as fish, but there is never a direct comparison.
Before I make my best effort to explain my title choice, I’d like to show you this illustration by one of Prof. Carmen Torres’ students, Michelle (whose last name I don’t know), who was kind enough to let me keep it.
I was excited to see it for many reasons: one, to know that by means of your own creativity you have bonded with a stranger who has reacted through art. We are all inspired by other artists, but we rarely get to connect. Having the opportunity to see an interpretation of your work in an entirely different medium provokes a feeling of togetherness and communication, even if it’s based on a title alone.
A second reason is that, having this self-created complex that “nobody gets it” regarding my title, this student helped me get over my anxiety because, when she showed it to me, with intense emotion I thought “SHE GETS IT!”
I would like to analyze Michelle’s watercolor as an answer to “Why Stars Like Fish?”
It’s a reversible image of creatures in water and outer space. You may look at it from one angle or another, and its meaning is unaltered (in the same way stars like fish or fish like stars are interchangeable).
But what is the meaning?
Does a starred sky ever meet the ocean’s edge?
From our human perspective, it does. As residents of an island, we might take visits to a shoreline for granted, but we’ve all noticed the horizon, the line where the ocean ends and the sky begins (or vice versa).
Under a dark night sky, however, this line is almost impossible to isolate.
Michelle’s illustration shows both sky and sea, almost blending into one another, but not quite. She painted white dots in the violet space, and colored stars in the blue one. The stars in space resemble stars as we see them, tiny white dots against a dark background. The stars in the sea resemble starfish, or anemone. In a sense, through linguistic signs (not considering definitions), there are stars in both sky and sea.
Now I’d like to focus on the characters: a mermaid and astronaut are looking into each other’s eyes, yet, they’re not touching, but waving at each other. Where do they meet?
I really had to give this some thought. What seems obvious to me is quite difficult to word, because I’ve never thought of it in words, until this moment, but in metaphor. We are beings of the earth… the sky and the sea, whether we have a scientific understanding of it or not, are realms beyond our reach. Humans may visit these spaces, in suits that allow us to temporarily adapt, but we cannot naturally experience them.
Hence, sky and sea are where we look to for solace, for a promise that there exists what we cannot grasp: origin and flight, a beginning where there is an end, birth and death (and an afterlife), which is why the sky and sea are elements in creation myths around the world. There are fish in the ocean and there are stars in the sky, so much we know… more than we can count, because we simply cannot. Stars are born and die as often as fish do, as our own lives are ephemeral… but we manage to live on our own, relative time, as we look beyond the horizon, beyond our atmosphere.
So, how are stars like fish? They inhabit the unknown, and are symbols, in Stars Like Fish, of what we can see – but cannot fully comprehend.
On occasion, we might see stars reflected on water. In our dreams, we may see fish floating in the sky with other impossible objects.