No. 10 - 11


Winifred Hughes  

  Portrait of Sir John Herschel
            (Photograph, J.M. Cameron, 1867)

  Take up the book, and I can still 
  lock eyes with the old astronomer,
  eyes unblinking for a century

  and longer, now fixed on mine.
  Having looked profoundly
  at the universe -- double stars

  and nebulae, Halley’s comet ablaze
  over Southern Africa -- he could
  refocus to this intimate intensity,

  vision leaping into light years
  out of surrounding darkness – 
  scored brow, taut mouth inverted,

  pupils bore through the page.
  He tried to locate us in orbital relation
  to the stars. How to measure

  parallax: the distance we’ve traversed 
  since he last turned this way
  his light-imprinted face.

   Light Years

   The place that is made out of light
   has already happened.
   We have always lost it

   whether we missed it by eons,
   a tether of brightness curling back
   into lapsed galaxies,

   or only by the length 
   of childhood, smudged images
   in a family album.

   Or by the moment whose negative
   floats up in the basin 
   to cancel itself

   in the fluency of light.

Ursa Minor

Only a trick of light, 
this pin-prick in the night’s 
horizon, tracing the ancient shapes
of bear and hunter:

it happened only once,
so long ago that no one
could recall it, so far away
that we can squint through 

this cold telescope, and watch time
curve into dark, an unremembered then
become our now.  This winter night
in the schoolyard, brief constellation

of our children with us, 
reminding us what we’ve forgotten 
about Orion’s belt: this winter night
now yours and mine, our only star 
to reckon with, or by.

   Partial Eclipse
   A pinprick in thin cardboard
   scatters tiny suns

   on haphazard surfaces 
   as we pass it hand to hand

   hey look we tell the kids
   orbiting at tangents in their winter jackets

   all of us squinting, not sure
   if we saw it move

   or if we’re looking at spots
   and floaters on our own retinas

   don’t look directly we tell them
   see that bite out of it?

   but nothing’s missing
   that really is the moon




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