Dangerous Astronomy, by Sherman Alexie

I wanted to walk outside and praise the stars,
But David, my baby son, coughed and coughed.
His comfort was more important than the stars

So I comforted and kissed him in his dark
Bedroom, but my comfort was not enough.
His mother was more important than the stars

So he cried for her breast and milk. It’s hard
For fathers to compete with mothers’ love.
In the dark, mothers illuminate like the stars!

Dull and jealous, I was the smallest part
Of the whole. I know this is stupid stuff
But I felt less important than the farthest star

As my wife fed my son in the hungry dark.
How can a father resent his son and his son’s love?
Was my comfort more important than the stars?

A selfish father, I wanted to pull apart
My comfortable wife and son. Forgive me, Rough
God, because I walked outside and praised the stars,
And thought I was more important than the stars.

Lights They Live By, by Pamela Alexander

1. nightjar

A carafe beside her bed or a glass goose;
a piece of water, stoppered, or a solid chunk, like ice?
She watches it all night,
death, the brightening star.
She thinks it is one with her all along
or she thinks it is the final thing she contains.

She reads all night.
Under a microscope there are lights in a leaf
that flicker, and go out, as the leaf dies.

All night.
Cities of lights.
A glass of water has as many.
The smallest piece of water has lights in it,
she reads, and looks
at the carafe to find
a juggler tossing jugglers holding stars.

She is a maze. She finds a candle at each
corner but loses the way. She thinks
she can make it up as she goes, strike
a bargain, make it stick.
Or she thinks she can’t,
turns again.

She wonders what holds her life together.
Not herself; she too is held.
Something does it like daylight through
a glass of water.

She has a son. He cuts his hands in grass,
long grass that leads to the sea.
He listens to water.

She has a song for him, tells him
the first ladder was a fern; she shows him the lines
that craze a leaf, says she’s not, he’s not
out of the woods yet, praise be.

2. daybreak

Whatever he sees in his hands is beautiful.
He sees lines; stones; lumps of glass, often
(often they are green); a carved cat; he sees
the last day of his life.

Looking closer doesn’t change things.
Through a magnifying glass obsidian is still
glossy, like a muscle; a moth’s wing
porous as manila paper.

He thinks he could put a bottle together in his hands
if he had all the pieces. He looks
for them, stands

waist deep in grass among the dull
green lamps of fireflies, hundreds, below
night-hawks flashing their wing-bars like lights shot
from a wave.

Days open and fold. Geese
slide through them, French curves.
The hawks shriek and turn;
they are pieces.

His rooms are a forest of things that have
touched him, including a jar
of rain, a pair of marble pigeons.
He picks up some white glass to give it away
and keeps it.

His hands tell him everything. They ache
when a friend he desires turns away. Still
he thinks he can find and keep them
all, all his days.

The more Alice reaches out, the more her dream-rushes, by Jenny Boully

disappear: one by one by one the darling scented rushes sink back into melt. In the dream stream, the boat glides past too quick, and there is no chance to gather the loveliest of the dream-rushes. No less satisfying was the old sheep: so many knitting needles, dozens and dozens all pierced into a ball of worsted, and there was never ever any telling of just what, even in dream, it might be that the old sheep was knitting.

For years, I dreamt of the child who, when I reached out to her, turned into a sheet of paper, and so, in waking hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote and my friends consoled me: see, you have book babies; this, while I looked on at other women who knit bibs and booties, so many booties, such small socks.

When Alice steals away and consoles the Duchess’s baby, it metamorphoses into a pig and runs away from her, runs away. That is ever so much a better-known story than the one of dream-rushes or too many knitting needles. (How ever did Alice ever console herself? Did her friends say, Oh, just think now you’ll have truffles!?)

Odysseus’s mother wonders how her son, a mere mortal, made it over Oceanus to the land where lives sink back into melt. She says that he must have had a good boat; he tries to embrace her, but like a soul she flits about and away. When Odysseus asks why Mother, why not stay still and let us embrace, she says, Son, it’s because I no longer have sinew, no longer have bones.

My little baby, who I will name a weaver of spools and not of dreams, with mortal limbs—not quite sinew, not quite bone—paddles a rowboat inside of me, and I stay, in those moments, ever-so-still so that she may reach out to me. The midwife says that what I’m feeling is called quickening. Scientists say that she is dreaming—practicing for this life, I like to think, where, in her nursery, there will be a machine projecting fake moonbeams and fake stars and fake shadows and fake birds and fake clouds to storm over her.

Inventing Father In Las Vegas, by Lynn Emanuel

If I could see nothing but the smoke
From the tip of his cigar, I would know everything
About the years before the war.
If his face were halved by shadow I would know
This was a street where an EATS sign trembled
And a Greek served coffee black as a dog’s eye.
If I could see nothing but his wrist I would know
About the slot machine and I could reconstruct
The weak chin and ruin of his youth, the summer
My father was a gypsy with oiled hair sleeping
In a Murphy bed and practicing clairvoyance.
I could fill his vast Packard with showgirls
And keep him forever among the difficult buttons
Of the bodice, among the rustling of their names,
Miss Christina, Miss Lorraine.
I could put his money in my pocket
and wearing memory’s black fedora
With the condoms hidden in the hatband
The damp cigar between my teeth,
I could become the young man who always got sentimental
About London especially in Las Vegas with its single bridge­-
So ridiculously tender—leaning across the river
To watch the starlight’s soft explosions.
If I could trace the two veins that crossed
His temple, I would know what drove him
To this godforsaken place, I would keep him forever
Remote from war—like the come-hither tip of his lit cigar
Or the harvest moon, that gold planet, remote and pure
American.

Quid Pro Quo, by Paul Mariani

Just after my wife’s miscarriage (her second
in four months), I was sitting in an empty
classroom exchanging notes with my friend,
a budding Joyce scholar with steelrimmed
glasses, when, lapsed Irish Catholic that he was,
he surprised me by asking what I thought now
of God’s ways toward man. It was spring,

such spring as came to the flintbacked Chenango
Valley thirty years ago, the full force of Siberia
behind each blast of wind. Once more my poor wife
was in the local four-room hospital, recovering.
The sun was going down, the room’s pinewood panels
all but swallowing the gelid light, when, suddenly,
I surprised not only myself but my colleague

by raising my middle finger up to heaven, quid
pro quo, the hardly grand defiant gesture a variant
on Vanni Fucci’s figs, shocking not only my friend
but in truth the gesture’s perpetrator too. I was 24,
and, in spite of having pored over the Confessions
& that Catholic Tractate called the Summa, was sure
I’d seen enough of God’s erstwhile ways toward man.

That summer, under a pulsing midnight sky
shimmering with Van Gogh stars, in a creaking,
cedarscented cabin off Lake George, having lied
to the gentrified owner of the boys’ camp
that indeed I knew wilderness & lakes and could,
if need be, lead a whole fleet of canoes down
the turbulent whitewater passages of the Fulton Chain

(I who had last been in a rowboat with my parents
at the age of six), my wife and I made love, trying
not to disturb whosever headboard & waterglass
lie just beyond the paperthin partition at our feet.
In the great black Adirondack stillness, as we lay
there on our sagging mattress, my wife & I gazed out
through the broken roof into a sky that seemed

somehow to look back down on us, and in that place,
that holy place, she must have conceived again,
for nine months later in a New York hospital she
brought forth a son, a little buddha-bellied
rumplestiltskin runt of a man who burned
to face the sun, the fact of his being there
both terrifying & lifting me at once, this son,

this gift, whom I still look upon with joy & awe. Worst,
best, just last year, this same son, grown
to manhood now, knelt before a marble altar to vow
everything he had to the same God I had had my own
erstwhile dealings with. How does one bargain
with a God like this, who, quid pro quo, ups
the ante each time He answers one sign with another?

After Mandelshtam, by Reginald Gibbons

To the futile sound
of midnight church bells,
out back someone is
rinsing her thoughts in
unfathomable
universal sky—
a cold faint glowing.
As always stars are
white as salt on the
blade of an old axe.
The rain-barrel’s full,
there’s ice in its mouth.
Smash the ice—comets
and stars melt away
like salt, the water
darkens and the earth
on which the barrel
stands is transparent
underfoot, and there
too are galaxies,
ghost-pale and roaring
silently in the
seven-hundred-odd
chambers of the mind.

From the Long Sad Party, by Mark Strand

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its
white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two
candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had
noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the
stars,
how small they were, how far away.