The Astronomer, 1668
Do you see me through the window?
Here, half-clothed in sunfall and half
again in the cool summer shade of my room,
I am at work on heaven.
The heavens, rather, since on this globe,
rotate those star-leanings known now
by astronomers everywhere, and not that divine
circular vision filtered through a quaking
human heart. No, this is a firmament we can
count on, a material radiance, not the fanciful
exaltations and distempered longings of Soul.
Isn’t the mapping beautiful
in and of itself? Spherical,
clasped at each axis by a bronze pin,
a pearl-painted shell on which are pricked
blue five-cornered suns. There is Orion, there Ursa
Minor, and hundreds of yet unappellated
constellations holding their still course
across a world of their own: this
universe, this bauble—truth
and an image of truth.
I’ve borrowed from the night so
today the skies stand at my elbow,
glowing with afternoon light. And I
can reach out, my hand’s width
spanning it, nearly, and palm
the star’s untouchable steerage,
like a god. Watch me.
“The Astronomer, 1668 “ first appeared in The Southeast Review, 23.1 (2004).