The Star Lesson
~Suzanne Gross, 1975
My daughter came with me when I left
the house for the night and the star-rise
of spring. Above us the Dipper poured
darkness into the cottonwoods' bare
red branches and us. See, I said, there
is the Big Dipper. We call it that,
but in England its name is the Plough,
and Charles' Wain; the old Roman men
called it Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Look, and I will show you. Do you see
the star at the tip of my finger?
that and the next are the tail; those four
like a box are the body and legs.
I see it, she said, I see it now,
but the bear is lying on his back.
Someday, I said, we shall find the crown
of Ariadne. Turn around now:
see, Orion the hunter is here.
One by one I touched her two shoulders
and feet, and traced on her the body
of the swimmer betrayed in the west.
I moved my hand slowly then over
her waist, and reached into the darkness.
There, I told her, is his belt of stars,
and see, he wears a sword of light, here,
at his thigh. Never before have I
seen it shining so clearly, so bright
as it is. Me too, my daughter said,
turning beside me as I turned to
let my vision go free through the crypts
and candescent arches of the night.
Cassiopaeia is there, I said,
sitting in her chair. My little girl
laughed. But I don't know where to find her,
I said. Oh look all around: we live
in a heaven of flames; what you see
burn through the night is our galaxy,
this blaze in the dark is our home.
The stars are not sparks or diamonds;
they are not the souls of the dead, nor
the campfires of angels, nor fireflies
in the wolf-willow groves of the moon.
Each is a sun immenser than ours,
a measureless fire revolving,
a world, a word, of elemental
breath that has burst into flame. The more
that we learn how to look into this
burning lens, the more we see there are
countless stars beyond the stars we know,
whirlpools of fire we cannot see
from here, there are ecstasies of light,
there are brothers of this world, it is
all effervescence of the justice
of God. All at once my daughter his
her face against my thigh, crying Stop!
Please let's go inside now. I want to
be cozy and safe inside the house.