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Poetry Classroom: The Night Sky

17 Comments

Poetry Night Sky by Dicktay2000

Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet Paula J. Lambert, author of The Sudden Seduction of Gravity. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of Paula and each other, and write your own poems along the way.



The Night Sky: A Found Poem

      Distilled from Adam Frank’s “Where Is Now?
      The Paradox of the Present,” NPR, 7/26/11

The night sky is a time machine. Look back
in time: those giant pinwheel assemblies
of stars—galaxies—are glimpsed as they existed
millions, even billions of years in the past.
We never see sky as it is, only as it was,
every aspect of our “now” a layered impression
of a world already lost.
Know the world comes to us via signals:
light waves, sound waves, electrical impulses.
It takes time for the signal to travel.
Those overlapping pasts are times that you
are no longer a part of.
When you look at a mountain peak 30 kilometers away,
you see it not as it exists now but as it existed
1/10,000 of a second ago.
The light fixture three meters above your head
is seen not as it exists now but as it was
a hundred millionth of a second ago.
Gazing into your partner’s eyes, you see her
(or him)
not for who they are but for who they were
10-10 of a second in the past. Yes, these numbers
are small. Their implication is vast.
We live, each of us, trapped in our own now.
The simple conclusions seem to spell the death knell
of a philosophical stance:
only the present has ontological validity.
Only the present truly exists.
Only the present is real.
The reality that even light travels
at a finite speed forces us to confront the strange fact
that the present exists at the fractured center
of many overlapping pasts.
So where, then, are we in time?
Where is our “now”? How does it live
in the midst of a universe
comprised of so many “thens”?

Photo by dicktay2000, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Poem by Paula J. Lambert.

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Your Comments

17 Comments so far

  1. Yes! I have often pondered the time machine sky. A starry night can blow the mind with all its meanings and implications. But I also like to look at it from another angle: I look up and see the Milky Way as the spine of night, and I’m just some hard-working cell looking up into the body spread out over me.

  2. Suspend time when you look
    up into the sky’s face. Not
    one wrinkle appears to scar
    the star you might wish on.

    • YES!!

      Maureen, did you just write this poem? And was it inspired by mine?

      It is SO awesome–makes me so happy. I’ve not yet seen anyone respond with the “write your own poems along the way” part.

      I think, if you don’t mind the suggestion, that the word “might” could be struck from the last line–would make it stronger, more confident/affirmative–but holy cow, this is a terrific poem!

      YAY!!

      • Yes, and yes (though I’m late in replying).

        Lyla and LL can affirm I tend to answer posts with comment poems. I find the approach irresistible sometimes. This was one of those times.

        And I agree with that deletion! Thank you for the edit and kind remarks.

        I’ve really enjoyed your posts this month. Wonderful poems!

  3. Holy cow! This is over the moon. (i’m sorry that slipped out) Paula, I am crazy about the line which begins “gazing into your partner’s eyes..” As I am reading about the science and physiology of time and space it is a pleasant shift to come to the relationship/love component of the poem. This is so rich, its like being in a Rubic’s cube and finding that when all the sides are perfectly aligned there is just a profound mystery of then and now. I love every line. The science and the human blended beautifully.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. Yes, that line is where the poem becomes distinctly personal. As I look back now, there’s a bit of a turn when the second person pronouns enter in, “times you are no longer a part of” begins to be personal–kind of a “wait, this cool science stuff is something I’m invested in”–and then the mountain peak so far away suddenly turns to the light fixture above your head. And then, the lover’s eyes…that light so mathematically far away is now just inches from your own face. It’s a whammy, isn’t it?

      I was reading some new poems at an open mic recently (the book I’m working on now is based in bird anatomy) and the poet who followed me said “Wow–science poems! I love science poems–thanks!” And I kinda thought, “Well, heck, I guess I am writing science poems!”

      Here it strikes me that what the writer of the original essay was doing, quite brilliantly, was making astronomy accessible, making it very, very personal. Maybe that’s the core of what drew me to it. Had I ever felt science (and math) were personal, I’d have done better with it in school.

      My dad was a high school chemistry teacher. It strikes me now that we need to have a nice long talk together…

      :)

  4. Tania Runyan says:

    This may be my favorite poem in the collection. You give shape to the thoughts so many of us have but can’t quite articulate. Just mesmerizing.

    • Wow. Thanks, Tania. You know, like last week’s poem, “There’s Only So Much a Poem Can Hold,” I don’t know how much credit I really can take. In that poem, the original words were Mark Doty’s, and in this one, Adam Frank’s. Still, the poems are not exactly what either of those writers intended, as I think what I did was highlight them into a different context and/or arrangement. In this poem, I can only explain that when I read the essay, I ‘saw’ this poem very clearly within it–I’ve since come across the term “erasure poem” which has been new to me, but it explains pretty well what happened here. I printed the essay out, and “erased” (actually crossed out, with a pen) everything that wasn’t poem.

  5. Bill Hurley says:

    “Pat and I really enjoyed your poem about time travel and how the only place for the present moment is in one’s self. We decided that if we both wanted to be in each other’s true presence, the only way was to stand close to each other and hug tightly. Great thinking!”

    • Wowza-wow, Bill! I love this response. Thanks for sharing it here.

      (I will let people in on the fact that you shared this response with me privately first, and I asked you to post it here, hoping others would be as delighted as I.)

      I’m actually working on a way to bring all of these delightful responses together into something new…something that might be our own found poem…

  6. I’m hoping, as I paste this into the comment box, that the lines breaks translate okay, but here it is. A new poem based on a the comments above! Yay, us!

    Over the Moon

    I’ve often pondered the time machine sky. I see the Milky Way
    as the spine of night, and I’m just some hard-working cell looking up
    into the body spread out over me. Yes, and yes. I find the approach
    irresistible. As I am reading about the science and physiology
    of time and space, it’s a pleasant shift to come to the relationship/love
    component. It’s like being inside a Rubic’s cube, finding that when all
    the sides are perfectly aligned, there’s a profound mystery of then
    and now, just mesmerizing: science and the human blended beautifully.

    If we want to be in each other’s true presence, the only way is to stand
    close, hug tightly, suspend time and look into sky’s face. Not one wrinkle
    appears to scar the star you wish on. Yes, and yes. I find the approach
    irresistible. It strikes me quite brilliantly that astronomy, accessible,
    is very, very personal. Maybe that’s the core of what drew me to it.


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. On Bukowski, Cockroaches, and Finding Beauty in Ugly Things | paula j lambert - September 30, 2013

    [...] words from the poem. Erasure poems are wonderful, and I have one in my book–it’s called “The Night Sky: A Found Poem” and is from NPR science writer Adam Frank’s essay “Where Is Now? The Paradox of the [...]

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