When I was young, I wanted to be an astronomer or an astronaut. My parents were kind enough to take me to the Hayden Planetarium once or twice a year, where I got to see the sky show, step on a scale that told me what I’d weigh on Jupiter, and climb into the humongous Willamette meteorite. I never fulfilled either childhood ambition. Nonetheless, I was delighted to hear that the New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto today, and to see the photos of this most distant world. But what really knocked my socks off was learning that the spacecraft has been traveling for 10 years, over a distance of 3 billion miles—and it arrived 72 seconds early! I can’t plan a trip to the grocery with such precision.
I still love watching the stars come out every night. Here’s a poem about it:
Old Women after Dark
We’ve grown old.
We stand in the garden at sundown
and watch voluptuous clouds turn gold,
then pink, then crimson, then squid ink.
Hoarse crows perch in the locust tree.
Fall silent. Then the stars emerge,
hundreds of billions, endless treasure
ablaze forever, it seems, to our ephemeral faculties.
We’re only instants,
and then oblivion.
Youth always suspects
the old of chastity.
We will not let them see
us standing in the garden,
see your fingers brush my neck, ignite
a hundred billion neurons.
I close my eyes. The tendrils of delight extend
and coruscate, connecting me
to every star and planet in the galaxy.