Conversing with the Stars

by Patrick Kanouse


He loved the stars. He loved spending hours
Through the night in his observatory
He built with his hands on top of his house:

A dome of two-by-fours and corrugated
Metal and a slit through which he peered
The telescope’s tube. Hours he spent. All year.

He told me once the universe could be
Confined to the realm of the lens, for but
The space between heart beats. If you waited

The universe would spin out of sight
Like a spinning top off the desk’s edge.
He said that that moment was still like wine.


He showed me on occasion stars, novas,
Nebulas, and planets, let me peek
At the sky that was his devotion.

In the center everything was crisp, clear,
Even the blackness punctuated by stars
No bigger than I can look up now and see,

Only more. Many, many more. He asked,
“Ever seen Saturn?”
                                     “In pictures.”
                                                             “Look here.”
I stared into the eyepiece and gasped.

Vibrant as a picture, yet I knew
It was there, in the lens, tan and brown, circled
By ghostly rings dull from sci-fi books. He said,

“That’s the sun’s reflected light. It’s minutes
Old because it takes so long to go from the sun
To Saturn and back to here. Amazing.”


He loved sharing his stars. He loved, I think,
Saying, “Millions of light years,” as if distance
Could be measured in words and grave tones.

He told me once how he could just not
Fathom it all. How when he looked at
Andromeda or the Ring Nebula,

He was overwhelmed by the vastness
Of it all, by the emptiness full
Of lights, clouds, and stuff untouchable.

He said, “We’ll never know. Perhaps there are
People on some lonely planet whizzing
Around Andromeda unhindered

“By a vision limited to our sun.
Too far away to visit. What’s lost
Because of all that? What’s to know? To feel?”

Deep into the alcoholic’s hours,
He would watch the sky, thinking of vast places,
Odd things, and the birth and death of stars.


He looked at the stars in the night and planted
Tulips in the fall. He preferred early
Spring bloomers in assorted colors.

When the weather is just right in early March
You can see the light green stems
Poking through the snow, clutching the sky.

After he finished digging and planting
His tulips, he would drop his dirt-caked spade,
Stand, and wipe his hands on his dusty jeans,

Sending up clouds of dirt and dust, the stuff
Of stars. Then he would drink lemonade—
The stuff of living—waiting for the night.


He said to watch the stars is to dissect
Awe from the chest and watch it beat unfettered,
Spurting its life onto the floors and walls.


I asked him once what he was doing.
He said he was conversing with the stars,
Measuring the weight of stardust and charting

The very stuff of the beginning,
The stuff of the gods. Meteor showers
And comets became his high holy days.

With focal length, patience, and mirrors
He sought the stars and their remains to find
A choir of color and a testament

Of how it all began, this corporation,
This accumulation of eons and energy,
This ever expanding, yet contained cosmos.

He denied seeking his scriptures
In the stars. Rather, he said, he sought
To can them like his mother once canned beets.


Only on cloudy nights would he sit
On his rocking chair on the porch drinking beer.
He talked in arcseconds, degrees, and parsecs.

He recited the names of stars—Vega,
Rigel, Aldebaran—reverently
Like foreign cities and temples one longs

To visit but knows never will. He gave them
Logos and colors for their uniforms. Dreamed
Of pitchers, stats, and cheering crowds. Many beers.

“Where else are the stories of the world
But wrapped in the sky? Bear, dog, and dragon—
They’re all in the stars. Every story ever told.”


He said he found his second love in the stars.
His wife was long dead. He said he named
A star for them both, which I didn’t know

You could do. He showed it to me one evening,
Saying, “There. See it? It’s actually
A binary star system. I bought them both.”

I looked long and hard but could see only one
Bright light. I figured he knew better than me.
He said, “Let me look. Let me see my baby.”


His granddaughter sometimes spent hours
With him at night. He said she called the moon
Mr. Moon. She saw sadness and happiness

In its phases. Traced them with her finger.
Mostly she giggled and plucked the tulips
She stuck her nose in, breathed, and then plucked more.


He loved his stars, counted them more
Precious than rubies and emeralds.
He plotted his remaining years by them,

By the number of meteors falling
From Leo or Perseus. He seemed like
A New Yorker trying to find his city

On a Babylonian map. See it
All in his mind--the names of streets,
The subway lines, SoHo, and the Village—

Confidently raises his head and points,
Saying, “In that direction.” He saw his years.
He planted tulips and caressed his stars.


He got cancer and he died. He strung his life
As long as he could, dying only when
Watching the stars was impossible.

It took days to find him, though we should have known.
Seems he wheeled his chair (with IV) by himself
Upstairs to his observatory.

They found him: one eye closed, one eye staring
Into the telescope. He confined
The universe into the last light of his eye.

Like Beethoven with his quill between
His ink-stained fingers, he gazed into
The oblivion of the cosmos with his last stare.


Now his observatory is at some school.
How I wish I had been a child
With a telescope like that to peer

Into the narrative of the stars,
Mysteries elemental and ancient,
With a voice reverently guiding my awe

Across the tapestry of time and space
Into the heart of love. And then to dig
And plant tulips, to watch them bloom.

Copyright © 2005, Patrick Kanouse

 CTIO 4-meter Blanco telescope

Copyright © Roger Smith/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Patrick Kanouse’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Evansville Review, Connecticut Review, and Smartish Pace among others. He is the production manager for Cisco Press, a technology publisher in Indianapolis, and the editor of The Raintown Review.

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