people of earth
Exploring Comets
by Steven Hendrix

We talked a lot about comets in 1986,
The year Halley’s comet made its appearance,
As it did every 76 years,
We talked about the Challenger astronauts
And their mission to observe the comet
And report back,
We talked about Mark Twain,
How he said he’d come in with Halley’s Comet
And he’d go out with it,
And then he did.

My parents took me outside on the ideal day
To see the comet pass
The street was lined with observers
Some shouting that they saw it
My dad put me on his shoulders
As though being four feet closer to the sky
Gave me a better chance of spotting it.
I saw nothing through the streetlights
But something moved me almost to tears
Knowing the invisible comet was overhead,
That I was somehow connected to it
And that if I were even closer to the sky
I could reach out and grab its tail
And journey through the mystery of the universe.

And now I think of comets again,
Without having given much thought
To them since childhood,
As though they were some child’s plaything,
I think of them again
Because it occurs to me
Comets are much like the soul
Floating alone through cold, dark space
Before blazing across the theater of the sky
Leaving an evanescent trail of light,
As though to say, “I am here but for a moment,
Experience the joy and ecstasy of my burning ice
Before I fade from sight.”

The child trapped inside me still from 1986,
Who looked up at the night sky with wonder,
Whose curiosity was not yet squelched,
Wants to know what has become of his soul,
What causes the light to burn so intensely,
And then become suffocated by gravity,
Whether it will take 76 years to return.
I am still waiting for further report from the Challenger.

ILLUSTRATION: People of Earth Excited by the Passage of Halley’s Comet (Mary Evans Picture Library).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: A version of this poem was originally published in Redshift 2 (Arroyo Seco Press, 2019). I often go back and edit poems I’ve written and even published, especially when they stay with me. The Challenger creeps into much of my writing because it was such an impactful event on my childhood. I am constantly excavating the ruins of this memory to help me build the present version of my identity and understand the impact of history on the present moment.

Hendrix2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Hendrix received his M.A. in English and Comparative Literature from California State University, Long Beach. He co-hosted the pop-up bookstore and reading series Read On Till Morning in San Pedro, California, and is the co-author of the poetry collection Leave With More Than You Came With (Arroyo Seco Press, 2019). His work has appeared in Chiron Review, Redshift, Silver Birch Press, Hobo Camp Review, and Drunk Monkeys, among others. His website, readontillmorning.com, will be coming soon. He currently lives in San Francisco.