Archives for posts with tag: comets

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.

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HALLEY’S COMET
by Stanley Kunitz 

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street—
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.
***
“Halley’s Comet” appears in The Collected Poems: Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton & Company, 2000)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) became the tenth Poet Laureate of the United States in the autumn of 2000. Kunitz was ninety-five years old at the time, still actively publishing and promoting poetry to new generations of readers. In the New York Times Book Review, Robert Campbell noted that Kunitz’s selection as poet laureate “affirms his stature as perhaps the most distinguished living American poet.”Atlantic Monthly contributor David Barber cited Kunitz as “not only one of the most widely admired figures in contemporary poetry but also, rarer still, a true ambassador for his art.” (Read more at poetryfoundation.org.)

PHOTO: Halley’s Comet, NASA (1986)

NOTE: Halley’s Comet is a “periodic” comet and returns to Earth’s vicinity about every 75 years, making it possible for a human to see it twice in his or her lifetime. The last time it was here was in 1986, and it is projected to return in 2061. The comet is named after English astronomer Edmond Halley, who examined reports of a comet approaching Earth in 1531, 1607 and 1682. He concluded that these three comets were actually the same comet returning over and over again, and predicted the comet would come again in 1758.  (Read more at space.com)