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
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”?