Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

The Astronomer

(Johannes Vermeer, 1668)

The Astronomer, by Johannes Vermeer

Credit: The Astronomer, by Vermeer;
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

He has lived in many cities and centuries.
Rotterdam, Amsterdam, London, Paris—
been bartered, sold, shipped across seas.

This move is different, without decorum.
Ripped right off the wall by laughing
uniformed officers breathing their rarified air.

Soldiers pack freight cars carelessly to capacity.
Stacks upon stacks of plundered art then, later, people.
Rothschild china rattles, fragile as his nerves.

He sits at his desk, dressed only in what Vermeer
gave him: a scholar’s robe in ultramarine. He touches
the globe, feels the celestial bodies swirl under his fingers.

The tracks carve a deep trail into Austrian mountains.
Oh Lyra! Oh Great Bear! They have taken away our sky!
There is no science to make sense of this darkness.

So lost without his lacework of stars, a tug of thread
unravels his heavens with nothing to measure, map,
or align; he must conjure the constellations from memory.

Here it is always night—cold and black
as the small swastika stamped on the back
of his oil-on-canvas skin. He dreams of voices:

rescuers coming closer, haloed torches reflecting
off the mine’s pitted walls, seeing the light beyond
countless clefts of salt—the ingredient of tears.

Previous | Table of Contents | Next

Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review, Pearl, and Pirene's Fountain among others. She shares her fully caffeinated life with her tall husband, two ever-growing sons, and their beloved basset hound in Northern California. She's at work on her first book of poems.