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Sky Full of Man-Made Stars

By Emily Howell

The sky is a forest of flame.

Candles suspended, rising into the darkness, each encased in a thin, paper chrysalis. Every so often, one catches fire—blazing hot white as the paper shreds, ripping holes into the night sky—and bursts. Shards glow orange like the end of a cigarette butt, slither, burn, float downward and explode into ash. A summer’s dusting of coal, black snow.

     My body is pressed between hundreds of others as the ash falls onto my upturned face. I am standing on the Ribeira of Porto engulfed in the crazed Festa de São João. Vendors are selling beer, wine and food, people are dancing to the pulse of music, plastic hammers arch through the air, squeaking as they make contact with skull after skull, buildings are draped in decoration, banners stretch between windows overhead creating a web of color, and the entire city seems to float in a haze of smoke from grilled sardines. Earlier in the day as we, my friend and I, walked through the narrow streets, we passed hundreds of families gathered outside their homes, cooking the small silver, scaled fish above beds of coal. The smoke drenched the atmosphere, and for days, despite showers and machine washes, I would catch whiffs of it lingering in my hair and clothes.


About the Author

Emily Howell received her MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and her BA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago. She currently works in cultural exchange and spends much of her time traveling. Emily was previously the managing editor of Barely South Review and she has taught memoir, literature, and journaling classes. Currently, she is working on a hybrid manuscript of nonfiction lyrical essays and photography entitled With Light. Her work can also be found in The William and Mary Review, The Slag Review, and others.