Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry


Sits with a long, thin tube
on an open roof.  A wooden balcony
keeps him from falling off the roof.
Good work Hevelius,
you bear of a man, you lecher.

The long tube,
a phallus supported by ropes and pulleys,
aims at the moon.  Mountains! Seas! Comet hair!

Hevelius stops observing and sketches the stars
as seen from the outside, looking in—
the constellated dog, the unicorn,
the bull
whose red eye keeps out evil
better than a whole string of beads.

Bits of casing,
odd wrenches, and guttering
stretch across planks of wood and debris.
Hevelius becomes a small man
in nightgown and nightcap,
a medieval saint
who stares at God through an eyepiece.

He's pulling one of the ropes
with one hand, holding a makeshift table
down with the other.

Admit it, you yourself would float away
if you weren't tied
down by gravity.  Have an out-of-body experience
like the woman who wrote a bestseller
after surgery, after almost dying.

According to those who have died
and returned to tell the story,
people have auras.
They stand in a hallway
flanked on either side
by a bright, all consuming light.

Floating upper left,
fixed to the sky by an ornate gilt frame,
the guts of the first telescope
sit like a collared animal
propped up by crossbars.

Hevelius seems not to notice.
He's busy tugging
the stars into position.

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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