He could always find Orion
he saw the innocent sword.
Because I was his mother
I could not speak what boys
should know. No sharing of manhood
between us. I keep silence
before the faintly moving stars.
Shirley George-Lin Lim: I think of “Starry night” as a lyrical meditation on the relation between mother and son. The young boy may be innocent that is, ignorant and naive, but unlike his mother, he understands “manhood” as his existential condition. As a woman, the mother admits this mystery about her son; she admits the limitations of what she can know about him. Orion is the name of a large, brilliant constellation of stars, figured as a hunter with belt and hound, coming form the Greek mythological hunter Orion, who was killed by the god Artemis. The son’s ability to recognize Orion suggests his innate acknowledgment of his male subjectivity. But the image of Orion, the hunter, is both powerful and tragic. Incipient manhood carries with it the possibilities of tragic development, not simply strength and power but also violence and death. The mother’s silence is a kind of wisdom before what must remain a mystery to her, and what she recognizes as an inevitable separation as her son grows up
Bill Moyers: Yet the poem is also silent abut the mother’s feelings.
Shirley George-Lin Lim: It is. I wished to leave this evocative, unspoken space for the readers to fill up with their own emotions. Perhaps a father, a son, reading it will respond differently and reading the poem under different conditions, the same reader might discover a different emotion in it - grief at separation, acceptance, joy in the mystery of the son’s separate life, perhaps a moment of clarity at the illumination of a relationship.”
Shirley George-Lin Lim speaking with Paul Moyers