Caroline Herschel, 1750-1848

NGC 253, the "Sculptor Galaxy," first discovered by Caroline HerschelMy eyes adjust.
My breath does not.
I must not fog the instrument.
So easy just to hold my breath
in wonder at the clearing sky,
my fingers losing heat
against the metal of the telescope.
I sweep
long swaths of black, white patches magnified
by smaller motions of the stars.
I stalk the apparition
through the polished lenses,
waiting for its hour overhead.
Tonight it's just a comet,
thrill of wild space reduced
to angles, numbers noted,
when I hoped to glimpse my brother
added to the heavenly register.
Crank the wheel.  Give me a galaxy—
hydrogen-red and beating
yet to my own eyes—
who's met its end,
its traveling photons giving memory the lie.
I will not lie.  The beauty overwhelms
everything but him, William Herschel.

Copyright © 2009, Mary Alexandra Agner

Image Credit: Hunter Wilson, some rights reserved

Mary Alexandra Agner is the author of The Doors of the Body and The Scientific Method (forthcoming from Parallel Press). It has been much too long since she stood beneath a telescope, sighted it on Arcturus, and counted photons from the stars. She can be found online at