I am sitting in my studio, in a found-on-the-street recliner chair as I stare through the large window at the copper beech standing motionless in the communal garden that is tucked between our apartment and the identical block two dozen of meters away. Behind that block, oak trees pointing into eastern skies. These are the trees that stand inside the trams long turning loop. I can't see the loop from our apartment, but when the wind is just right I can hear the trams ringing their bells to announce De Kromme Zandweg, where the line both ends and stops, as loops often tend to understand departure as arrival.
When I look down from the balcony, I see some of my neighbours standing around a fire that was a barbecue some hours ago. I follow the fire’s thin smoke ascending in straight, uninterrupted lines, into the windless skies. It is the last hour of the day and the sky is empty of both stars and clouds.
Despite the light pollution, I generally see a few celestial bodies in Charlois’ night sky, but on these warm, windless summer nights, the sky is nearly opaque. I have been told that the adjacent port’s emission of particulate matter hangs stationary above the city, veiling the night sky of it's stars. Friends often respond with disconcert to this fact, but it is alright with me - I never cared all that much for the stars to begin with.
As the sun sets, the veil that leans over our apartment begins to bounce the industrial lights back to earth into an orange glow - the sky becoming a hand glowing by a torch pressed deep into its palm. I have come to call this glow the nightsun although it doesn't really immaculate anything and it doesn't rise, but simply appears in the sky above the buildings and cranes along the street, a palimpsest of the day about to pass.
Nearby, across one of the ports’s obsolete railway tracks, a long pier extends about 600 meters into the Waalhaven. Sometimes I walk to its end and sit on a bench that is carved out of an enormous grey block of stone. There, I look at ships both passing and stagnant and try to see the ports’ veil, but I never can: it only becomes visible in what it makes invisible.
Although the nightsun interests me more than the stars, from time to time I do look for the great constellations, more out of interest in how things so far apart can be connected than anything else. The tropes of cinema and literature tell me I should feel tiny in those moments, in awe, like a speck of dust inside a giants eye, but I never do - not from the night sky anyway. Before Copernicus, there was a time when we believed those lights above revolved around us, but that time is long gone, and I feel there is a comfort in insignificance, in being an uninvolved audience to the night sky's slowly swirling choreography, the night sky that is mostly invisible here to begin with.
As my eyes adjust to the pale semi-darkness, Venus appears. Later, I recognise Sirius, Perseus, Libra and some of their brightest companions, but my celestial knowledge doesn't extend much further than that. Unbound by knowledge and names however, I grant myself the liberty to make up constellations myself: one I call the table, another the balcony, and with great effort I find I few stars that I name after our cat. Probably I'll forget these names and places soon, but that doesn't matter. The next time I am looking up I can name the sky according to things that are of importance in that moment.
Down below, large, bulbous clouds of steam rise from the fire. Someone emptied a watering can on the fire. As the last bits of steam disappear the neighbours leave the garden. All the other balconies are empty and so are the streets. It is just me, the nightsun, the cat, the table, the apartments balcony and the recently named balcony of the sky now. In a while, I will leave them be, for all this naming has made me tired.
When I return inside I leave the door to the balcony open although I don't suppose it will cool down this night - it hasn't cooled down anything the last two months. The only relief from the heat these days is a plastic ventilator that was left by the previous tenants. My partner named it the airplane engine, both because it makes an overwhelmingly boring noise and because I like to fall asleep next to it as I image being inside transcontinental flights. Today’s last hour is waning and as the sky darkens, deep orange-blue reflections of our apartments interior bloom onto the bedroom windows, yet another veil of light that diminishes my view of the empty night sky, the night sky that was dimmed to begin with.
The airplane engine has accompanied me all day as I worked behind my desk, and now it stands next to my side of the bed. The bedrooms curtains are shut and the blinds are down - I have seen enough nightsun for today. As the engine runs I close my eyes and mind the gaps, I am inflight and entertained, I am remaining seated and attentive to the seatbelt signs, and then, with my luggage stowed away safely and sitting in the upright position, I take off and fall asleep while the night sky continuous to swirl slowly, but nobody can see, the nightsun is way too bright.