sporklet 16
Kathleen Rooney
The Physical Universe Beyond the Earth’s Atmosphere

Astrophysicists announced today that they’ve detected gravitational waves resonating at the perfect frequency to harmonize with a song by Elvis Presley. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” sung by a pair of orbiting black holes.  


The space fascination gene—I used to think I lacked it. 


Probably I was afraid. Space is so big! Eerie as a library that appears to have no patrons. (Or maybe they’re all hiding.)

Black hole as home for the Holy Ghost? Holey ghost. Wholly ghost.


Belinda Carlisle sang that heaven is a place on Earth, but half our nation would prefer to make it hell.


People who’ve been say that space has a burning-metal smell.


The crew of Apollo 17 snapped the Blue Marble in 1972. A marvel. Its meaning simultaneously clear but mysterious. 


Is space really the final frontier? Space cowboys flying around high on their own supply?


Frederick Jackson Turner said, “American democracy was born of no theorist’s dream; it was not carried in the Susan Constant to Virginia, nor in the Mayflower to Plymouth. It came out of the American forest, and it gained new strength each time it touched a new frontier.” Such theories make me want to shriek into the ether, “Everybody, look out!” 


As Ridley Scott said, in space, no one can hear you scream.


Astronauts experience the Overview Effect—the sudden perception of the delicacy of our planet. “From out there,” said Edgar Mitchell, sixth man to walk on the moon, “international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”


One of my students told me that 7% of the total population of humans who ever lived are alive today. Another said that at any given time 8% of the people in America are in a Walmart or on their way to or from one.


According to howmanypeopleareinspacerightnow.com, there are three: two Russians and one American.


“Astronauts” are “star sailors”; “cosmonauts” sail the universe. Either becomes well-versed in the stellar depths.


Wanna have your mind blown a little bit apart? Space is only an hour away if your car could drive straight up.


When she was five, my niece arrived at a cosmic understanding: “We’re on the Earth, but we’re in space.” Holding my hand in the backyard at twilight, repeating it thrice lest it not get through my head.


They say in heaven, love comes first. Wise men say only fools rush in. Though it seems empty as a catacomb, for all we know, space is full of beings speaking to each other in what can only sound to us like code, and the footsteps of angels unafraid to tread.

A Place Set Aside for the Burial of the Dead

Alone in a graveyard I feel like Medusa, everyone around me turned into stone.


Nowhere’s more peaceful than a cemetery to stroll. The dead pose no threat, and technically every walk heads graveward. 


Rosehill Cemetery is the largest in Chicago, its beautiful name the result of a typo. It was supposed to be Roe’s Hill, after a local farmer who refused to sell his property until the city promised to name the boneyard in his honor. It contains 350 soldiers killed in the Civil War and 61 victims of the Iroquois Theatre Fire and a lot of dead from other tragedies that nobody remembers.


Sooner or later your work will have to fend for itself without you there to explain it.


Open the book of nature and read. Lichen on granite. The sheltering trees. A few brown leaves, raspy as pencil shavings.  Woodsmoke drifting from somebody’s chimney.


My sculptor friend who lives in Rome wrote me this morning: “I have a small collection of human bones that date back to when I used to study anatomy.” He plans to bury them in the vacant lot next to his studio if anyone decides to develop it, in the hopes the resulting investigation would hold up construction.


Cemetery from the Greek for sleeping place.


“Tireless” people are often quite exhausted. 


The deer here seem to hold the dead very dear, grazing near headstones to leave the carvings clear. The cottontails hop softly, as if they know beneath their feet are the ceilings of the deceased.


Morbid to have a fave grave? Maybe. Anyway, mine is Lulu Fellows, dead of typhoid at 16 in 1883. Many hopes lie buried here, says the engraving at the base of a life-sized statue, encased in glass, of Lulu reading, book in lap.


As a kid, I gravitated to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Hubbard, Nebraska, on a bluff south of the town of 300 souls. Packed with Rooneys. More dead people than live ones. A few tall pines, dying like Dakota County was dying. It felt incredibly remote, but wasn’t even a mile. Across Pigeon Creek, not far from the reservoir.


There was another one called Epidemic Cemetery, but you needed permission to hike there. High on a hill above Highway 35, it began during a diphtheria outbreak and housed mostly kids. 


Better by far to travel than arrive. Because what’s the point of anything when it all ends up here?


Necropolis. God’s acre. Potter’s field. I would like my headstone to read Dead to Perfection.


I used to hold my breath when passing a cemetery, lest I inhale in the spirit of someone recently dead. Now I march right in and breathe as deeply as I can.


In the year 2000, the meaning of life was sold on eBay for $3.26.


Graveyards tend to generate generational thinking. If only I could be a grandparent without being a parent.


Saint Vincent de Paul wrote in a letter to his friend Claude Dufour, “Alas! Monsieur, there is no lot in life where there is nothing to be endured.” That was in March of 1647. 


Graveyard shifts. Shifts in perspective.


Like Carl Sagan said, the pale blue dot of Earth and everyone on it—every young couple in love and all the rivers of blood—are no more than a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.


Meaningless suffering is the aim of Satan.


Guess we’d better find some meaning.

The Act of Passing Across or Through

Who would have guessed that I’d miss the bus? Not like, at the stop, but riding it at all. As in, who would have guessed that I’d miss the bus this much?


I used to have a 45-minute commute by the CTA Red Line. Now it’s a 20-second hop from bedroom to office.


Yesterday, on a walk, I saw a couple waiting on Broadway, and a standard 40-footer just blasted past them. Another passerby asked them, “Why aren’t you mad?” and they explained the new rules: no more than 15 riders at a time, or 22 on the 60-foot accordion-style articulated ones.


Nobody right now is able to bus dishes, to bus tables.


My nephew, who is five, believes that riding the subway is the funnest activity you can do in a city. I’m not sure he’s wrong.


A busman’s holiday means leisure time spent doing what one does for a living, like when London bus drivers ride the buses on their own days off.


That flicker like a filmstrip when one train passes another in the subway!


Pascal conceived the first bus service in 1661. A fleet of coaches, he said, should “circulate along predetermined routes in Paris at regular intervals regardless of the number of people,” picking up passengers for a low fixed fare.


Fair to say mass transit is a kind of miracle. 


Bus is short for omnibus, which means “for everyone.”


Riding the Brown Line at twilight, gazing right into an infinity of windows. The slowest rollercoaster. The coyest voyeurs.


What could we enjoy if we weren’t ruining things for ourselves?


The stacked romance of the double-decker bus. The peculiar hierarchies and rules of the school bus.


Who would you most like to throw under the bus?

To choose to be a passenger rather than a driver is to check a box marked Existential Freedom.


Reading demands undistracted progress, and there’s something unbeatable about reading on rapid transit.


Pascal also thought humans bet with their lives that God exists or not. “Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives,” he said. “You must wager (it is not optional).” But: “if you gain, you gain all; and if you lose, you lose nothing.”


Sometimes the wait for the bus is so long, it feels like an exercise in probability theory.


My students apologize: “It’s creepy, I know, but I’m a people watcher.” It’d be way creepier if they were not.


The smell of mass transit: a gruesome perfume.


If I saw Pascal on the bus, I’d try to talk to him.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte (Spork Press, 2018). Her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey was just published by Penguin in August, and her criticism appears in The New York Times Magazine, The Poetry Foundation website, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago.