Monday, November 21, 2016

"The Popcorn Ceiling Astronomer" by David Pring-Mill, Frequent Contributor

The Popcorn Ceiling Astronomer
David Pring-Mill

I am a popcorn ceiling astronomer.
I am also a pillow fort architect!

My living room is a vista,
and slopes of sofa
become mountain ranges.

When you are young,
older people seem old.
With enough time passed,
youth seems like something
old to you...
But today I remember it,
Today I relive it.

Beware strange enemies!
When you're a kid,
every electrical outlet
looks like a face.

My grandson crawls with me,
to avoid detection.
Together we explore
this remortgaged majesty.
I sacrifice my knees
for the greater good.
This little boy leads
the liberation.


Poet's Notes:  This poem underwent multiple revisions before settling into its current form. The poem began with the declaration: "I am a pillow fort architect!" I did not come up with that funny job title. I heard this quoted elsewhere and was immediately amused by what I interpreted to be a childlike sense of professionalism. I wrote that line down and then decided to expand upon this playfulness by directing an imaginative perspective towards ordinary things. I re-imagined furniture as epic scenery and electrical outlets as sentries with faces.

Next I tried to figure out the philosophy of the poem, because most of my poetry contains subtle or explicit pondering about the nature of existence. In the first draft, I focused on the theme of wonder, and in particular I tried to explore the relationship between wonder and truth. The perception of the living room as a mountainous vista is technically inaccurate, and yet this view contains a greater amount of wonder than the staid view that it is simply a residence with furniture. People think of wonder as a good quality, and they also prefer honesty to deception, so I liked the thought of forcing people to trip over this contradiction in their own values. Ultimately I deleted this philosophical stanza because it didn't feel right for the poem. It felt excessive and detracted from the childlike celebration.

I decided to give the poem a more personal quality. As someone in my late twenties, reconnecting with a childlike state of mind is certainly unusual and refreshing, but I thought that it would be even more powerful if the narrator were an old man, at the end of his life. And so I sketched out a scenario in which the narrator is actually playing with his grandson. I concluded that this character-based approach to the poem would emotionally resonate with the reader, and so I decided against being a social gadfly in this particular instance and I left the wonder/truth dynamic behind for a later work or different author.


A friend, in a completely different context, coined the title “popcorn ceiling astronomer”. We were trying to come up with the title for a book of humorous essays that I wrote, and I had mentioned that my book contains the type of thoughts that I think about while staring up at my popcorn ceiling. My friend condensed that idea into the title "Popcorn Ceiling Astronomer." I didn't use his title for my book of essays so I decided to re-purpose it here, for this poem.

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