William Herschel Telescope, La Palma I explain, "If you angle the fins it spins
...3...2...1...'' hissssssssssssss :
my model rocket lifts and twists
red and blue into a purple blur
streaking for the zenith.

Other boys launch spinning pucks,
count up their goals, aiming
to blast into the NHL on a slapshot:
I count down the years till
what we'll be "when we grow up,''
aiming to blast off this rock.

***

Our first night at the observatory,
I stand winged between Warren and Kent
as we catch glints off the Pyrex
disc: two tonnes framed in a truss
the size of a school bus. We look
up through the slit, as the dome
grinds around: the growl in a mammoth
beast's twisting throat—the grease
screeching under the vise of teeth.

The Milky Way fills the slit:
we've arrived, spinning around the Galaxy
220 kilometres per second
without a rocket ship. We can integrate
the universe with a calculator; measure
its age with a ruler. As we stand inside
this monolith spinning on the edge
of the Galaxy, no one is here to peer back
down—see us as boys under the microscope.

We flick on switches in the control room,
request "ground control
to Major Tom'' on the radio,
and leave the computer to count photons.
Grabbing the glow-in-the-dark Frisbee
off the lamp top, I wonder what toy
maker foresaw boys staying up
this late, as we run down

dark halls to play under the stars.
I slice the frisbee wide,
pinging it off the dome. Kent jests,
"Didn't you ever learn how to spin
a disc?'' Warren and I laugh:
no one's keeping score anymore.

Copyright © 2008, Megan M'Clure

Image Credit: Roger Wesson, some rights reserved

Megan M'Clure grew up in Calgary, Canada, completed graduate studies at the University of Toronto, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher in relativity and cosmology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.