The Smudge Between The Stars
by Irene O'Garden
About Irene O'Garden
IRENE O'GARDEN'S poetry has found its way to the Off – Broadway stage (Women On Fire), into hardcover (Fat Girl,) into prizewinning children's books, and into many literary journals and anthologies. She won a 2012 Pushcart Prize for her essay "Glad To Be Human," (now in e-form; e-Fat Girl forthcoming from Untreed Reads) O'Garden has received other awards, fellowships and residencies for her writing, as well as an annual listing in Who's Who in America and Who's Who of American Women. She blogs at ireneogarden.com
The evening news bursts into our imagination: a possible "Comet of the Century!"
Comet ISON was discovered last December by amateur astronomers, and if all goes well, in late November of this year (2013), ISON will appear in the night sky brighter than the moon! A whoosh of memory follows like the comet's tail: the ache for and the arc of wonder.
Hail ye, Comet! Blasty, sunbright Comet! Cast my shadow on the boardwalk;
flatten me against the cypress. Weak my knees and knock me over. Blow like a TV car crash in the constellations; make it impossible to sleep for the writing of long letters to greatgrandchildren describing blaze and arch and movement over the rattan welcome mat of the draining Everglades.
Just in case, though, we bring along binoculars. Over the marsh on boards, twelve strangers trod. Up then the wide, wood tower where bird
eyes swoop the flat, eyestretching land.
We've come to see, but seeing's not the point. The point's to feel the low, slow note:
a wavelength seventy-six years long.
An hour to wait. The sun goes down like cellos. Compass to be sure that's west. Ibis fall
asleep. Twilight. Time of promise. Twelve yearning toward the stars, weirdly fearing-despite the bellclear night-the stars
will not appear.
On this broad tower, this porch, this dancefloor of an observation deck: an older
vigor-couple, a mother tightly ponytailed, her teening daughter, a crinkle-eyed matron with two daughters and their men, two college boys, and a scruffbeard photographer.
Charts, guides, trivia aside, seeing's not the point. The point's to feel the ancient round vibration.
Up into friendly space we look, where humans now have set their feet. Over the great
leaf sea of the Everglades, ancient craft sail by these ways.
Squeal of the first star found. Dodge feasting mosquitos at their comet party, drinks on us.
Birdcall tumbles out a large beak. Men talk and study charts. Women lean and huddle.
Star by star, night fills. Star to star, eyes leap zillions, quillions, drillions of miles.
Twelve forms: a silhouetted jury sways in starlight. Photographer's binoculars scan like radar.
"Think I got something!"
Excitement ricochets around the tower.
of feet across wood.
"See Jupiter, then those stars there? Right next to that one."
"Gotta use the binocs."
He makes a papernapkin map with ballpoint stars. There,
by the three-star curve, through chubby lenses I behold: a smudge between the stars.
* * *
papernapkin. Dandelions gone to seed are showier.
"Oh, Harry, we came all the way out here for that?"
It is there.
Entirely unstarlike, uncelestial. Mistake of a shaky God. An optical whisper.
Seeing's not the point, the point's to feel. Feel what?
Bone-shiver. Sense a yellow afternoon just after recess, counting up the years till
seeing Halley's Comet for myself, feeling blessed to be living at the same time.
Bone-shiver. Sense Calusa and Tequesta, Seminoles and Englishmen, Chinese,
Babylonians, Mark Twain himself_this smeared astronomy, these black glades teem with centuries of witness.
Bone-shiver. Sense my body recollecting herself as light: surging, centerless
energy meeting, crossing bits of ice and we became a comet.
Perfect strangers. Each a wonder, aching for wonder. Sharing flashlights, lenses,
observations, in the wonder of perfect trust in a dark swamp under the starfull sky, the sky, like Earth, where nothing is too subtle or too small to love, where majesty is masked in smudges, cells, in us.
Some joking, some sagging like popovers, two by two descend the steps.
Out under the billioned sky:
"Good night! Great seeing the comet with you!"
Voices echoing over the Everglades.
"Least we can say we've seen it."
New zodiac appears.
The comet glides above, away.
Now, after decades, Comet ISON tantalizes. But we have since learned that
beyond our Earth, our Jupiter, beyond our very Neptune, a shell of such smudges surrounds our solar system. We are swaddled in comets. A blaze of glory is redundant.