Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

Call and Response

It’s really quite antique
for the heavens to come calling
upon us, singing with us,
spinning us out
touchstoning us into
our strangest
most bottomless
most unreasonable
of travels.

But in this era
of God-Is-Dead,
let it be revealed
that the heavens not
only still speak with us,
make music with us:
they give humankind
some kind of a shout out
like never ever,

in multiple,
scores, &
litanies of Science,
no less.

Converse with us in
gamma rays
before atom bomb,
X rays before Roentgen;
in ultraviolet,
lost on humans
except for sunburns
& Vitamin D
but homing-in
for the bird & bee;

in visible light, that is,
the overlapping rainbows of our sun &
the homo-sapient eye.

Chorus with us in
infrared, heat, same as the coronas
of our day-and-night flesh;

down down to radio waves
never from our own
puny transmitters;
but even before those,
in the microwave
that can still be witnessed
as a fraction of the snow
falling sifting hissing
among tired old TV channels,

in the Cosmic Microwave
Background Radiation:
the faint, chill
invisible glow
that runnels almost evenly
through every quadrant
of the celestial sphere:
the Big Bang’s telltale
diffusing keepsake
since 400,000 years out.

And who is it, who is it
who carries on such
vibrant talk and song with us
in this ever-present
ever-past mélange
of electromagnetic
spectrum voices?

Tracing out
from the Big Dipper,
take a pointed
fingertip’s worth of sky
including the star
on whose precession
the north sky hinges,
the singular Polaris.
The eye lined up
behind the finger sees
but one trueblue star
but telescope open
unprecedented degrees
of optical resolution
and Polaris is disclosed
as a twinning then
a trinity of suns.

And beyond them,
in but a drop of black
past scattershot stars
and bluish cirrus clouds
of star-nursery dust
high above the thin barreling disk
of our own Milky Way
with a giant black hole
at its galactically
typical heart:

a swift spiral of exits
into deep field upon
ultra deep field

can expose the thousands
of other galaxies,
first the familiar shapes
of spiral and ellipse,
but then, as the exposure
builds, faint light arriving
one photon per minute—

back to—
the technical term
is “oddball galaxies”--
to all oddball
all the time,
in the most
and farthest
of seeable pasts:
stray pickup sticks
& bracelet charms,
played with
and worn by

Oddball galaxies
back into the verge
where the Beginning
went dark for a billion-
year, formative

before the first of the stars
appeared in any sky,
before there was anywhere
to have a sky.

Sojourning ar past the bow
set within Earth’s air
as a visible spectrum
sign of the Covenant,
without Keck Observatory,
Hubble Space Telescope,
Chandra Probe, WMAP Satellite,
or even just
a good pair of binoculars

the slaves divined to
Follow the Drinking Gourd.

Ear cannot hear,
& eye cannot see,
but theirs were quickened
into deep field mappings
that poised them
and drew them
stone/star ahead
to indecipherable Jubilee.

If God is really Dead,
what a lively-roaring,
promise-laden, ever-
travelling the ways corpse God
left us then and
leaves us now, and that
156 billion light-years across
and counting,

past all reasoning
in any direction.


For Adrian Felix
For the ancestors in his face

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Mary Krane Derr is a poet, musician, and writer from the South Side of Chicago. She was one of the foreign poets featured at India’s 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival. She has been nominated for Best American Poetry, Best Spiritual Writing, and the Best of the Net Award. Her poems have appeared in journals like Pudding, Many Mountains Moving and Canary: Literary Journal of the Environmental Crisis, as well as anthologies like Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society, ed. Nita Penfold (Pudding House). She contributed multiple entries to the African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford University Press) and the Polish American Encyclopedia, ed. James Pula (McFarland). Visit her web site at: