Steve Abbott

Prime Time on Alpha Centauri Bb

Early TV broadcasts could now be traveling through star systems more than 400 trillion miles from Earth. —item, Newsweek

As a child I could view a type of world through the window

of a Philco TV, black and white, how I thought for a time.

The news and its gravity, bloodless model families, ads

for cigarettes and conveniences—all moved in grayscale

dreams of interplanetary travel unfolding in a scripture

of themes from the Old West and the new prosperity

singing jingles to oven cleaner and floor wax. I went along

for the ride, like anyone offered a trip to the stars

and imagined lives filtered through the infinite space between

those stories and the world I was being launched into.

Still mapping the sky, I rocketed into a twilight

where darkness was no longer out there but within, my skin

an uncertain border I crossed at light speed

like mysterious discs over southwestern deserts.

Near Alpha Centauri someone’s watching

an anthropological study that left Earth as reality

TV, the fleshy primitives a cluster of strange stars

anyone here can see any night of the week.

Some of what bombards Arcturus is clearly about

starships and hope, encounters between alien cultures,

the images spreading a canvas so like the tiny lights

arranged above them, they can almost chart the distinct

shape to each narrative that, even untranslated,

has an arc as smooth and sure as a comet.

In the Aldebaran system, one of the bull’s eyes in

the constellation Taurus can see the Brooklyn Dodgers

again splitting a double header with the Cincinnati Reds,

Ebbets Field, August 1939, stick and ball recognizable symbols

even from grandstands 80 light years away.

We imagine whatever is out there to be conquerors

ready to enslave whole galaxies, or galactic gurus

ready to guide us out of our visceral blood knots.

I expect them to be better than me, more advanced somehow,

evolved, a type of being I could become if I stopped

being human. Maybe out there they know something

we don’t. Maybe they’ve never had a God or a genocide

in its name, their sense of meaning embodied in some form

of mathematics or quantum mechanics. They could be

invertebrates, floating in transparent cylinders like politicians

in the instinctive and shifting current of the mob.

They may have no instruments to capture what we’ve been

and done, but however they process what we call sound,

they understand the notes that open The Twilight Zone,

an interstellar pattern that makes them wonder

about us and our veneration of conflict and excess.

On the other side of the Milky Way, they could be creating

their own Jersey Shore, still stuck on the beach after

dragging themselves from some methane sea after eons of evolution

and now, like a boy gazing into the night sky, trying

to decipher the invisible mist flowing through the air

as the old stars blink and burn, releasing new myths.

Daylight Constellation

Purple bursts signal the scent of lilac as a 10 a.m. sun

clears a neighbor’s trees. Hostas are exploding from

the darkness of shade like supernovae, and the Japanese

maple’s burgundy bows over the murmur of water

cascading into a pond. The sky’s low-humidity blue

is the color of royalty, a mantle without wrinkles.

Yellow jackets buzz orbits around flaming coneflowers

as sparrows flash like comets from birdbath to feeder,

chirping signals that move into the ether like photons.

The same daylight that illuminates all this blocks my vision,

convinces me the atmosphere’s dome is an umbrella,

a false ceiling that keeps me grounded and holds me in,

separate, distinct, something less than what the night reveals.

I can’t see beyond this immaterial trick of light. A slow

turning will reveal that everything remains in its place,

that I am the equal of dust kicked up by a truck going

down the alley, my bloodlines long even without

surnames or tribal allegiances. I take comfort in

the sky’s lapis illusion, the one that reassures me while

overhead, patient and unseen, the Pleiades remain

with no concern for my blindness to their eternal presence.

When You Wish Upon a Sun

I can watch the stars for hours and never see

another person. This is all right. I don’t expect

to find people in the night sky, certainly

no one I would recognize beyond an outline

formed by imagining lines between points

of light and sketches the ancients gave

stories and names to as they came to recognize

the placement and regular patterns in

the turning of the seasons, long before we

stopped being the center of the universe.

The stories were good ones, of bulls and lions,

twins, lives in balance, hunters and sisters who

became more than the light in a father’s eyes.

Still, if I look more closely, something more

emerges from the darkness, an understanding

of scale that seeks a voice. I am staring at

a sun that died a thousand years before this

moment on the dark side of a small world. It threw

its energy into the void between us, and I feel

it now, arriving like a response to a wish

I made as a child, one I don’t remember now.

Told the reliability of stars, I never knew

as I stood in a back yard’s damp grass that I

was in fact wishing on a sun. Which you must

admit lacks the sense of wonder and romance

conferred on stars. But if I had known,

would any wish have been less likely to come true

Steve Abbott edits Ohio Poetry Association’s annual journal Common Threads and is a founding member of The Poetry Forum in Columbus. Once, gazing at the Milky Way from a dark road on the Yucatan Peninsula, he fell over drunk on true starlight.

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