Stars, Planets, and Poetry

Willamette-3-500The Willamette meteorite, with children

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,
animated specks
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.

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3 Responses to Stars, Planets, and Poetry

  1. Antonella September 19, 2021 at 1:21 pm #

    Hi Martha, I didn’t learn about the Willamette Meteorite until I joined GSOC: the Geological Society of the Oregon Country, which meets in Kramer Hall of PSU. At one meeting I saw slides of how it was transported from the Oregon countryside back in the day: on a wooden wagon! That dang meteorite was so heavy the wheels sank into the soil and left deep ruts. After I learned about it, I pledged that the next time I visited the Museum of Natural History, I’d ask for its return. (LOL). I did visit the museum, because it turns out my sister’s library on Long Island offers free activity passes to museums and attractions. So we packed lunches and headed out to the city on the LIRR. I got my photo taken in front the meteorite and learned there is NO way Oregon is getting it back, because it is installed into the bedrock under the museum.
    And that is my Willamette Meteorite story.

    • Sylvia Allen September 19, 2021 at 7:50 pm #

      Hi, Antonella! I too was tempted to demand the return of the Willamette Meteorite when we visited it. We abandoned the ambition more easily than you did–we gave it up when we found out how much it weighed and how difficult it was and still would be to move it. How sneaky of them to screw it into the bedrock!

  2. Martha Shelley September 19, 2021 at 5:26 pm #

    Wow! I didn’t know about the meteorite being installed into bedrock. So we can’t get a crew and sneak in at night to repossess it…

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