“These are all familiar chemical elements. We recognize their names. Such stellar nuclear reactions do not readily generate erbium, hafnium, dysprosium, praseodymium or yttrium, but rather the elements we know in everyday life, elements returned to the interstellar gas, where they are swept up in a subsequent generation of cloud collapse and star and planet formation. All the elements of the Earth except hydrogen and some helium have been cooked by a kind of stellar alchemy billions of years ago in stars, some of which are today inconspicuous white dwarfs on the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy. The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star-stuff.”
— Carl Sagan, “Cosmos”

We used to be stars, once.
We used to twinkle, and they used to point their fingers into the darkening sky, fix their gazes upon us, and wish.
We were the dreams of dreamers,
the souls of the soulful,
the symbols of love for the faraway lovers.

But we fell from that sky in a shower of light,
and they don’t point at us with gleeful smiles anymore.
They point at us with fear, and envy, and hate.
And the dreamers dream alone,
and the soulful pontificate,
and the faraway lovers whisper over phone lines their endearments.

It used to be easier to keep our lights burning bright.
Stars don’t have ribcages to burst,
or hearts to flutter,
or tongues to freeze,
or throats to stopper.
And stars know what it is to burn with the heat of a sun,
but they don’t know what it is to feel that same sun within your chest
after nothing more than a glance.

But stars have never walked a New York City night,
or shared a secret smile.
And though they’ve never felt a wave of feeling
bright behind their temples, threatening,
they’ve never felt bubbly from the bottom up, nearly overflowing.

As is human nature, we fell.
Falling, always and forever,
for him or her or you or me,
from that dark and empty sky.
And when you smile, your eyes shimmer.

Nina Wade, Age 17, Grade 12, Stuyvesant High School, Silver Key

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