Composite of images of Saturn taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera Once, in a childhood vision, I saw you,
and was afraid.  In the darkness of space,
which I could not possibly have known,
your strange, surpassing light drew near.

You bore down upon me, and I became
even more frightened.  I was ten years old,
undergoing the repair of a minor defect.
The anesthetic chosen was diethyl ether.

A mask was fitted over my nose and mouth.
I was asked to count backwards from ten.
You materialized – a shining disk, vast
and unknowable, immeasurably distant.

Suddenly you were less than an inch away,
pressing even closer, chanting odd syllables,
and for the first time in my life, I knew fear.
In the next instant you became a carrousel,

all platinum and silver, drifting in starlight,
slowly revolving in the void.  That vision
was a benediction.  Someone called to me,
and I woke up, back in the hospital ward.

Decades later, I saw Saturn’s photograph,
taken by the Cassini mission, and realized,
in one of those moments of synchronicity
between childhood and the end of one’s life –

I had experienced the great mystery,
a presence shining and splendid, lasting
beyond the boundaries of time and space,
and in no way terrifying, to child or man.

The universe unfolds, backlit by suns
yet to be realized, suffused by waves
and particles that leave no trace.  And dreams,
that grant their own unbidden, secret grace.

Copyright © 2009, Jared Carter

Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Jared Carter’s most recent book is Cross this Bridge at a Walk from Wind Publications in Kentucky.  Additional poems and stories may be found on his web site at www.jaredcarter.com.