Thursday, December 23, 2010
WINTER, DAD, THE BACK YARD, AND THE STARS
At this time of year, a favorite memory from my childhood always surfaces in me. It is the memory of my father and me going out into our suburban back yard, well after dark, deep into the cold of Long Island winter. Gloves on, my father held the flashlight, and I carried a book of the night sky. Together, for an hour or so, we would try to identify the constellations and name some of the individual stars. This was in the 1950s. This was how I learned to love Orion and Sirius and the two Dippers. Here's a series of seven little poems I've written about looking at the stars with my dad.
Stripped to antennas,
did the trees
sense us as some winter ambiguity,
all humid and complex,
all ribbed and knitted?
Did the January grass
learn some new night-impression,
all steam and dark footprints?
Just us, me and Dad,
out again to check the stars.
The brittle, branchy silhouettes
defied our suburban kitchen
and the profuse, overbright options
of its motherly cabinets.
Point by blue point,
into the constellations
of my childhood evenings.
One by one by one,
specifics broke into sudden light
until the zodiac
defined the sky.
Among the cold backyard bushes—
a red-rimmed flashlight,
a book of blue circles,
Brilliant technician binoculars!
Astonishing positions of glass!
But even they
could not give shape
to the stars.
And every time, it frightened me:
how the face of the moon,
without a whisper,
could be so deeply, deeply broken.
Or, in Kentucky summer,
way past my bedtime,
a sweet purple midnight snack of stars.
Lake and library,
the sky is still dead-distant
and full of fatherly reflections.