Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

A Day in the Life of the Universe, I

In order to represent to the average reader
the brief scale
of human existence,
Carl Sagan
condensed a history of the universe
into the span of a
calendar year

Penciled in:
January first: Big Bang
(No wonder we don't know what happened, if anything, beforehand—
the hangover must have been monumental)
September fourteenth: formation of the Earth
(Just in time for baseball playoffs. Can you imagine the game
before that? When a home run would fly through space forever?)
And at four minutes to midnight on December thirty-first,
a man in China discovered fire
(just in time to light the sparklers before the ball drop. )

On my birthday,
December the twenty-third,
Sagan writes,
“Carboniferous Period.
First trees.
First reptiles.”

Trees, I understand
First rough-barked leafy beings.
First shady, root-stitched patches of earth.
First strong limbs stretching, branching, thinning to tips.
The first years forming rings in pulpy cores.
The first of future textbook pages, pencils, dining room sets.

And reptiles, too, I recognize.
The sleek armored bodies.
Flickering tongues.
Claws like excessively lacquered manicures.
Dark, empty eyes.
Cold blood.
Bearers of skins that would one day be valued as
handbags and high heels;
woman's triumph over her deceiver.

But I am unfamiliar with the Carboniferous Period
Until I pull heavy books from dusty shelves
and scour yellowed pages.

A time when beds of coal were forming
in preparation for our Industrial Revolution,
for our Appalachian mining towns,
for our mountaintop removals.

A time when temperatures dropped over the South Pole
And glaciers explored unknown waters.
Sea levels sinking, waters more potent
as a result
and crinoids ('sea lilies,' 'water feathers') and
ammonites (horned creatures, shaped like nautili, but closer in unseen genes to squid and octopi)
found themselves dying in droves.
Lakes drained low in lieu of swamps.

Oxygen levels in the air were nearly double back then
what they are now.
So what would it have been like
to breathe
such moist, enriching air.
If insects grew to lengths
of two feet or more,
insects that these days would fit in one's palm,
to what heights might we have been capable
of rising?

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Teegan Dykeman-Brown has previously published short fiction and poetry in A Fly in Amber, Sand, and The Pisgah Review. She now lives in Plymouth, MA, but you can reach her at