Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

Emergent Property

The meteor astronomer does not ask whether her mind conjures constellations out of the stars, or the stars conjure constellations out of her mind.  Caught by motion-triggered video cameras, sorted by computers into the “signal” of shower-associated meteors and the “noise” of sporadic meteor background, her so-fleeting scratches of light make even imagined constellations seem solid and enduring as the pillars of eternity.

She knows the old Arabic tale: shooting stars are stones thrown by angels at afreets eavesdropping on the secret counsels of heaven. Were all meteor-shower astronomers enormous skulking demons stoned on shooting stars and heavenly secrets, in previous lives or alternate universes?  She wonders.  Perhaps it is to appease our inner demons that we spend our time searching out creatures from the Id. Draconids. Hydrids. Cygnids. Leonids. Taurids. Ursids. Et ceterids.

Her colleagues have used that last joke against her, but when she’s done subtracting from the daily background of sporadics all known meteors associated with named showers, she thinks she’ll name what’s left—the “shower” of all meteors which are not part of named showers— “Ephemerids,” just to annoy them with the logic of it.

They consider her an irritant, but it is sand makes oyster grow pearl, stone makes air grow meteor, noise makes message grow signal—and not too much to imagine meaningful dreams and nightmares might flash from anywhere in the sky, anytime.

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2010 Perseids over the VLT

Credit: ESO/S. Guisard (, some rights reserved

Howard V. Hendrix is the author of six novels from major publishers as well as three collections of short fiction (most recently Human in the Circuit, 2011).  He teaches at the college level and also writes literary criticism— most recently as lead editor of Visions of Mars (McFarland, 2011).  He won the 2010 Dwarf Stars Award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association for his poem "Bumbershoot."  He owes his knowledge of meteors to his research for his 2006 novel Spears of God and his continuing service as a Contributing Editor of the journal of the International Meteor Organization.