||Flying to Palermo I watch the dotted red line
plot our course over the Oceano Atlantico,
the Monti Appalachi at our backs, blanks
in the line filling as we leave the continent
and climb into the evening that has already left
Milano but not yet arrived in New York.
Suspended like an instar over Newfoundland,
cabin darkened, passengers disheveled in sleep,
I sip cognac, its heat shimmering in my blood,
and watch a woman sip champagne in the galley,
joking with her husband, charming him with
female vivacity and spangly cardboard glasses,
the eyes two Os, the 2 and the 1 framing her face.
What time is it here 35,000 feet over the world,
hours after the toasts have been raised in Paris,
hours before they will reach San Francisco,
the turning world always waiting for something,
always getting over something, the same things,
all over the globe. Baby at last asleep, Daddy’s
shirttails untucked, my seatmate collapsed over
two seats, blanket over her head—what was
that pill she popped as we taxied out of Kennedy?
Sleep. Broken by silent fragments of a film.
Turning. Aching. Synthetic diurnal rhythm
of mechanized flight.
a day late because
a blizzard hit New England, snow starting at dawn
and closing the woods around my mother’s house.
I shoveled the pathway, hauled wood and watched
the white unfurling—four inches at breakfast,
ten inches at lunch, mid-afternoon and the whiteness
had muffled the world down to the small circle
at the end of my pen. Two storms converged
off the coast, spinning together into a galaxy,
its force canceling everyone’s business. Beautiful
to be subdued by its quiet, where I could only think
about flying to Palermo and wonder what my mother
at ninety, not a woman who welcomes help, would do
alone in a blizzard. One day, she said, when the dog
brought home a rotted deer carcass, she whacked
the meat and bones apart with a hammer, bagged
the remains and drove them to the dump. I can feel
her frustration and her strength, bemoaning the dog’s
disgusting habit but energized by the task, and if
someone had come along to help her, all she’d have
felt is frustration. That’s why she’d rather let the snow
pile deep against the door, while I fly off to—
it doesn’t really matter where I’ve gone.
Palermo now where boats oar out at dawn
past marly cliffs and return filling crates
that line the sidewalk—glittering anchovies,
spiraling periwinkles, black bursting sea urchins,
half-moon steaks of swordfish and whole
octopus, flesh white as porcelain
speckled purple as wine, lifted from the
open-air pot and sliced before my eyes—
oh the beauty of the customer who stands
at the streetside bar to wait, the winter street
spilling conversation like heat from open doors.
I’m here because two hundred years ago
the monk Piazzi discovered the first known
asteroid and named it Ceres. His portrait
honors the muse Urania, science owning up
then to its sisterhood with art. In his observatory
the globe shows North America, in sepia,
unnamed—Indian Territory and Uncharted Land.
I’m here because now the charting continues
in space (how many gravity assists does it take
to fly past the moon?) and an audience
has gathered to hear what poetry has to say
about where we are. An expert reports that
astronomers consider asteroids vermin—
they clutter space between Mars and Jupiter,
streaking the clarity of stars. But really,
the expert adds, we should consider them
friends, places we can use for staging (land there
and mine them) when we go to Mars.
to put spin on asteroid reputations, though
they can use public relations since one slammed
to Earth leaving an iridium spike at the K-T boundary—
global darkness for a year and the shrinkage of dinosaurs
into birds. My job to argue for beauty not use
(see Galileo’s washes of the moon; see Kepler’s
“Somnium”; see Nabokov: “I discovered in nature
the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art.”).
My job to argue for dark skies that make us see stars
and say where oh night did I come from and
where (coded for long distance) am I going?
My job to be the lepton thoroughfare that is me
and the storm and the stars and the dark matter
that perforates everything with its missingness.
How to feel whole knowing we’re shot through
with holes made of the inverse of all we know?
Inherent in matter is something unwounded by puncturing.