Astrophotographer

by Brenda Levy Tate
PenShells
Third Place, September 2018
Judged by Kathleen Hellen


Dusk deepens, and brings stars. I wait for them; pray to see them.
They cancel my need for sleep. When they appear, rivets in a curve, I wander 
under their patterns, count myself blessed. Avoid the crammed shelves
 
above my bed where photos glare, those downlooking ones who knew me
before I ever met a midnight sky. Beneath my heels, the dark lawn springs 
eternal, like resurrection. No matter how often I cut it down, grass returns 

with a clover scarf gently laid, and bees with emerald sparkles on their heads. 
I think of how they borrow themselves from space. Their starfield, I can map 
and travel by day. Their wings, I greet fearless. But they are torpid now – 

the only part of remembered noon that sings above the noise of ordinary light. 
The galaxies excuse me. My camera grants absolution. Its lens gleams,
a fisheye in murk where I swim forever, suspended between sea and heaven. 

Out here, no dreams ripple the surface. I consider nothing of myself, neither sin 
nor sorrow. I hum to the quiet dead as I map their universe. A husband carousing 
with Jupiter. A lover stung by Scorpio. A brother raising his arrow to my throat. 

No power in consciousness. Only with slumber do they punish me. I am perfect 
this night, barely human. The void which bore me from ash, the roiling bubble 
of failed promises, spans every hour until I go. This is the universe I have inherited. 

Mars hovers above the lake; earth swings toward morning. No more frames 
are possible, but enough have been captured: holy fire – burning in the prison 
of my glass. I scuff a trail through wet blades, drip on the kitchen floor. 

Collapse tripod, remove memory card, connect reader. In my bedroom, 
faces wait, but they are patient. I stir a creamy nebula – instant coffee 
to hold off sleep just a little longer.   


Rendered in tercets, this narrative relies on binaries (earth/sky-day/night-waking/sleeping) to provide background for its restless movement through a night of stars, its liquid phrasings (“rivets in a curve”). The camera serves as trope for framing what we see: here, the “quiet dead” (husband, lover, brother). It grants “absolution” in a subtext that begs “to hold off sleep just a little longer.” --Kathleen Hellen

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