Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

20/20 Florida Vision or,
    The Miracle of the Great Turtle Mother

Infrared image of the Pleiades from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech)

When she was younger, had better sight,
on a cool, clear night in winter, she
could see nine stars with her naked
eyes in that oasis of faint light long called
the Pleiades, that glittering tangled tail
across the empty haunch of Taurus.
Trifocals, smog, halogen streetlamp
pollution – she blamed any number
of things for her blurred, blinding vision.
She longed for the moon obvious,
whose bold glow would not make her squint.
She owns wrinkles enough.  A gibbous suffices.

But most often it is the sun
that guides her afield
to stray off woodland trails.
By Helios she sees well, feels young,
no longer so dogged by her failings.
Like how she cannot measure up
to any Aldebaran, no shepherd
with her watching flocks of
stars rising, especially in the warm
spring afternoon. Alone, she hopes
to lose her way, get lost, disappear
into the remaining wilds of herself.

In the near subtropical light of Florida
she walks, stops by a river, say,
the Santa Fe.  There’s no mistaking
its sluggish spin as it enters the sink where
it will flow underground for three miles.
On a mild, cloudless day in winter
she counts a line of Suwannee cooters
riding placidly on a long naked log of
deadfall, riding that slow merry-go-round
widdershins in the pool where
the water goes below.  Nine such
turtles glisten as if glazed with honey.

She names with naked enchantment
the dozing reptiles, the illuminated
nonet of vertebrates tipped golden
at the head with a divine flame.
She chants aloud to them
in quick familiar tongues:
Alcyone, Merope, Celaeno.  Then
Taygeta, Sterope, Electra, Mais.
Two she leaves as a token
without a spoken name under heaven,
there, where the Great Turtle Mother
had fallen from on high to rescue her.

So, when she turns around, the driver
of the Pleiades awaits.  She calls
him softly by her beloved’s name.

He had caught up with her after all.
She could see that with her own two eyes,
no telescope, no binoculars necessary.

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Award-winning poet, National Park Artist-in-Residence, and assistant editor and book reviewer at The Centrifugal Eye, Karla Linn Merrifield has had work published in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has six books to her credit, including Godwit: Poems of Canada, which received the 2009 Andrew Eiseman Writers Award for Poetry, and her new chapbook, The Urn, from Finishing Line Press. Forthcoming from Salmon Press is her full-length collection Athabaskan Fractal and Other Poems of the Far North, and The Ice Decides: Poems of Antarctica from Finishing Line. You can read more about her and sample her poems and photographs at