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Anton Zhou / Staff Illustrator


This is not a real kite. This isn’t, arguably, even a very good depiction of one.

It’s just a kite like a child might draw. A kite in a world where kite proportions don’t need to facilitate aerodynamics, but can just signify kiteness.

Flipped on its side, the kite’s diamond body forms a perfect square. Two rods bisect the surface, forming four isosceles right triangles on the kite’s regular face.

This was a misleading introduction—I have nothing important to say about kites, neither real nor fake. My knowledge of them does not exceed yours; I know they fly, and I know I had one as a kid. Instead, I’m here to consider two things I do know about, two places where I’ve likely spent more time than you have—Butler’s reference room and my bedroom at home.

There is a pattern on my radiator, and it is made up of shapes that look something like this fake kite—four right triangles forming a diamond. There is metal where the kite’s frame is, cut-outs to allow for ventilation in place of its fabric. The diamonds repeat, forming a dizzying, kaleidoscopic sequence of triangles. I look up from my seat in Ref, where I am writing this, and see the same pattern on the walls, right under the portraits of unidentifiable figures of royalty.

If you attempt to draw this pattern as I’ve described it, I can almost guarantee you will not get it right, neither with respect to Butler nor my bedroom. You might draw this pattern:

Or this one:

Or this one:

Through no fault of your own, you are not imagining what I see—not because you are an inattentive reader, but because I have not been rigorous enough in my description. So let me try again: There are diamonds, all the same size. On my radiator, the diamonds form diagonals. The hypotenuse of the upper-left diamond’s bottom right triangle rests comfortably on another diamond’s upper-left triangle’s hypotenuse. That diamond supports another bottom-left triangle’s hypotenuse on its upper-right triangle’s hypotenuse. In Butler, the diamonds do not appear in a dense pattern like on my radiator––instead, they materialize one at a time, each iteration surrounded by half-diamonds on all sides, each iteration separated by meters of stone.

Though visually concise, the pattern is (clearly) a lexical disaster. If I asked you to draw it now, you’d probably still be unable to. Sometimes we can only attend to images, not words:


This is the pattern on the radiator. There is metal where the kite’s frame is, cut-outs to allow for ventilation in place of its fabric.


In Butler, the diamonds do not appear in a dense pattern like on my radiator––instead, they materialize one at a time, each iteration surrounded by half-diamonds on all sides, each iteration separated by meters of stone.


As you can see for yourself, this pattern proffers many more descriptions than the ones I did—all equally complex, yet none precise enough to persuade you to imagine it without first seeing it.

Perhaps the pattern is not kites. Perhaps it is four bigger triangles composed of eight smaller triangles, congregated around a circle. Or it is rows and columns of squares made of triangles, the diagonals of their hypotenuses holding no significance to the squares above, below, and beside them. One could even endeavor to describe the pattern with respect to variations in triangles themselves, other shapes be damned.

Given the pattern’s concise complexity, I begin writing this piece expecting to unearth it in some king’s court or some religion’s iconography. It will have a convenient symbolic resonance that will allow me to transcend boundaries between Butler, my bedroom, and my future. Perhaps this resonance will facilitate some conclusion about how the library and my childhood bedroom are transitory spaces in my life. It might solace the looming fact of graduation by implying that the pattern will guard me once I leave Columbia, conducting its vigil over my life wherever I next find it.

Experience would be on my side here. Over the years, patterns in less significant places have serviced my iconographic tendencies. I have found comfort in the fleur-de-lis, in the Celtic knot––even the decorative cross and the ichthys, two symbols devoid of any religious meaning to me. But I find no storied history for these contortions of triangles. The closest I have gotten to a historical resonance is the similar-looking Wingdings character for “v,” unicode 2756, described officially as “black diamond minus white X.”

In other words, the object of my fascination and scrutiny is just something that kind of looks like the most boring Wingdings ever. This pattern is not even a normal pattern for radiator covers — I’ve just spent two hours Googling them, so long that they’re now popping up in my Ad Choice ads, and I could only find one for sale with this pattern.

It is likely I will never encounter this pattern in a place so important to me as my bedroom, the place I grew, or Butler, the place I learn, ever again. Nor am I likely to encounter its variations—not the variations you drew, not the variations I imagine in the faint shapes of phosphenes whenever I close my eyes. Whoever drew this pattern must have had two primary aims. First, for me to have too much trouble describing it to others. Second, for me to spend most of this year worrying about finding it again.

So this is what I’m left with to define the contours of my life thus far: an incident of ornament, a statistical quirk, an unreasonable kite.


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