Astropoetica: Mapping the Stars through Poetry

Europa Variations


Artist's impression of Jupiter and its moon Europa using images in visible light and ultraviolet

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Kornmesser.
Science Credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute and University of Cologne, Germany), J. Saur (University of Cologne, Germany), K. Retherford (Southwest Research Institute), D. Strobel and P. Feldman (Johns Hopkins University), M. McGrath (Marshall Space Flight Center), and F. Nimmo (University of California, Santa Cruz)

A moonless night
A beach in Phoenicia
A feverish Mediterranean blue
            remembered in damp air, the taste of salt
Sun-scarred hills lying thick with the coast
And in the grass, a kneeling figure,
            hinge between land and heaven:

Look up, Europa
See that parcel of sky
where your life will hang
invisible wreaths wound endlessly
around the fat disc of Jupiter;

Look down,
the cattle have wandered in
their calls barely noticed over restless water
and among the herd, a white bull waits
for you, Europa, for the Fates to spin
the next thread of your story.


            Life, says the science correspondent
(hair swept earnestly to the right),
cannot exist without water.  It is your liquid womb,
your cosmic hemoglobin.

Jupiter’s moon makes lofty promises,
or so astronomers say.  Beneath her frozen mantle,
Europa tempts with a hint of the sea,
a churning layer hidden by cracks and sediment.

Does life exist in the entrails of this lunar
seductress?  We could give you
an answer today, if only she would peel
like a hard-boiled egg.


Bedtime story:
God sees girl.  God lusts.
He cannot say why―
perhaps it’s the imminent life
(like a stretch of unbroken snow)
ornamenting her ordinary
breasts, cheeks smudged with sunburn.
He steps into a bull’s shape
to breathe sweet chlorophyll
near her nostrils, lick fingertips,
offer his back as a platform
to better reach the two smooth horns
she’ll ache to caress: one tipped
down, one flawless, both formed to fit
the contours of her palm.
The flower wreaths she’ll weave―
irrelevant, only the snare
to occupy her when he begins
creeping closer to the waves,
before he plunges in.


Europa swallowed whole

the waves that submerged her pure-white
abductor, as she (intact vessel
with a fresh hairline
crack) dug

fingers into folds of transmuted hide, bovine
neck rolled taut and thick
like a Cuban cigar;
her lips

compressed to a line, protecting tongue and teeth
from incursions of ravishing spray.
Both faces uplifted
to witness

the rush of oncoming land, green shoulder cleaving
sea from sky, urging thought forward
with the frailty of deep
brown soil.


Water flows within
Europa’s heart, her one

eternally frayed
like chicken fibers

from the shoulder bone
on Jupiter’s ravenous



Moon with warm ice
glides along her orbit,
a system of fissures
finely wrought.

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Melissa Frederick is the author of a poetry chapbook, She, published by Finishing Line Press in 2008.  Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Mythic Delirium, Star*Line, Astropoetica, Crab Orchard Review, Mid-American Review, Goblin Fruit, and Strange Horizons.  In 2006 she participated in the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and in 2011 she was nominated for a Rhysling award.