Thursday, February 16, 2012

More Night Than Just The Stars

We were both silent for a while; and as I looked towards the window I saw the first dim streak of the coming dawn. There seemed a strange stillness over everything; but as I listened I heard as if from down below in the valley the howling of many wolves. The Count’s eyes gleamed, and he said:--

“Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!”

from Dracula
by Bram Stoker

Music —
Is something in the music
The way music’s in the night?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Under the stars on a summer evening
a small telescope set up in the grass
reveals to the astronomer more night
than just the stars. Moths and flying beetles
land and rest on the smooth telescope tube.
Spiders climb up the tripod legs, and down
thin strands of silk if there are trees nearby.
Leaf hoppers, flies, mosquitoes—I’ve even
observed walking sticks and praying mantis
gathering around either the science
or body warmth of the astronomer.

The stars come out, too, on winter evenings
but there are no bugs, then, to share the night.
Bug metabolism, the chemistry,
doesn’t work as well when the weather’s cold.
But the night’s still there. The stars are still there.
And the telescope and astronomer.
Nature, so they say, abhors a vacuum.
I’ve always wondered why evolution
didn’t chance upon a mechanism
comfortable in the winter’s cold dark
as insects are on a summer’s warm night.

An eye augmented by a telescope
sees invisible things up in the sky—
Some stars are double. Some ‘stars’ are planets
circled by moons or enshrouded by clouds.
And some empty spaces between the stars
aren’t empty at all but make strange shapes
as interstellar gas glows in the void.
I’ve always wondered if a winter’s night
around an astronomer is empty.
What might the right instrument reveal? Ghosts?
Lost myths? Invisible eyes watching us?

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