Heather Anne Halpert


eather Anne Halpert – Polar Stratospheric Clouds (projective test)

Polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs), also known as nacreous clouds (/ˈneɪkriəs/, from nacre, or mother of pearl, due to its iridescence), are clouds in the winter polar stratosphere at altitudes of 15,000–25,000 m (49,000–82,000 ft).

“What he sees he does not know, but which he sees is inflamed with desire for it” 

Ovid Metamorphoses, Book 3, line 429 

You see yourself in the far northern sky and are transfixed by your own beauty. You point upward to your image, modestly of course—you don’t say right out, that’s me, but you admire it aloud and describe the undulating smear of sunshot color above the grey horizon. Your eyes like twin stars, your face (you hold still) still as Parian marble.

I wonder who it looks like, you say, hoping somebody will notice the resemblance. When no one does, you set to geoengineering. You increase the reflectivity of your cloud, making it hard and glassy as the pool of ice beneath once was. At this point you notice that the cloud looks distinctly like a pair of breasts. They seem suddenly to sag and lengthen. So far no one has connected them with you, but you fumble anyhow and slop too much ammonia in so the silver nitrate precipitates into little black dots on the back of the cloud and you have to start all over again, cleaning the damn thing with hydrochloric acid and absent-mindedly eating some of the powdered sugar you’re supposed to be using as a reducing agent. This time the silvering process works fine, and the pressure you’ve applied has compressed the cloud into a couple of nice compact lenticular forms. You are just starting to relax and think to yourself that it would be okay if anyone recognized you at this point, when you realize that you have unfortunately forgotten to take into account the height of your cloud. It’s supposed to be stratospheric—about twice what a normal ladder will reach. When you lower it to get a better grip, it stops catching the light after sunset like a fluorescent pink UFO the way it ought to.  It looks flat as grey paint and as night deepens, becomes nearly invisible. By the time you manage to get it back up to the ozone layer, the sun has set entirely, it is pitch dark and everyone else has gone home, which is just as well because you don’t want to talk about it any more. Your icy cloud shines steadily in the tail of the arctic daylight, eyes luminous and unclosed, facing upward. You can’t stop looking at yourself. You look like everything else in the world—but upside down, reflected in your convex surface. You glow in the black sky like an afterimage, bleeding improbable color, your irisate blush mixed with snow white radiance. Here you put out an ungloved hand to straighten the veil but draw back quickly. Was it always this caustic? You put your hands back in your pockets, clap them between your thighs, rub them, shake them. They won’t stop burning.

+NASA on clouds