Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

The Astronomer

There was the scent of clay
on his shoes,
the newspaper rolled up
to kill bees, mercury drops
he played with in the thirties.

Once he told us
of a star named Capella
flickering blue, red, white
like the country he adopted
but never loved.

I don’t know which is worse,
the fact that the moon
is leaving the earth,
or this dirt tracked
into the foyer, left
by his observations
of stars, sublunary objects,
and the personae of scientists.

Odd birds cluttered
the house, each one
a character as schizophrenic
and various as the animals
that populated in the sun
in those days.

Their spots cycled off and on
each eleven years.
The radio behaved
in a certain way
with its fuzzy grid and bulbs.

I remember
stopping with him,
checking in at the booth to see
which balloon-shaped
tube had fizzled.

There were soft-shelled turtles
and feeder goldfish
in the five and dime store,
and it was as much like voting
as anything I’ve done since.

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Judith Skillman is the author of thirteen collections of poetry, most recently The White Cypress, Cervena Barva Press, 2011. She is the recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets, Washington State Arts Commission, and other organizations. Her work has appeared in Poetry, FIELD, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, The Midwest Quarterly, and many other venues. Skillman holds an M.A. in English Literature from University of Maryland, and lives in Kennydale, Washington. For more on her work, please see