Bringing the Distant Close

All day yesterday I thought about how I saw Orion the other night, as proud in that sword-wielding pose as a six-year-old. It so comforted me to see him Sunday night, not poised menacingly over us but lying on his side as he was on that first cold night of this fast-aging autumn. It reminded me of ‘Choose Something Like a Star’ by Robert Frost with words that cphill me every time, evoking as they do the star’s distant and taciturn quality, its serene sense of remove from the messy woes below.

When I began looking for it here on the web I came instead upon ‘The Star Splitter’, also by Frost and what do you know? Frost also speaks of Orion’s close-to-the-horizon position, only his image is even more animated. Rather than saying Orion is merely reclining, he has him heaving one leg up over the tops of trees. The words suggest great energy and at the same time call to mind the image of a man sleeping, as some men do, with one leg thrown over his partner’s flank.

As to this poem, it is set in a small country town and tells of the man who burned his house down and used the insurance money to buy a telescope.

I was going to quote a little of it here until I found this link that has the poem and the voice of Frost himself when you touch the “play’ symbol; of Frost dead these nearly 50 years, but still here reading! Reading to us in that memorable folksy voice the phrases that sound so much like those of a man come to town for a keg of nails you can hardly tell that they’re part of a poem.

Click the link even if you only for a moment and listen; just listen to that voice. I did and was able to catch hold of them and hitchhike my way clear back into my own family’s past on a lonely farm in the mid-1860s. I did and was transported back to the dimly remembered day when as a little girl I saw a young president take the oath of office while an old poet squinted to see the page he was to read from, then gave up and recited an even better poem he knew by heart.

What you hear is Frost’s own mortal voice, And this, this is his ‘Choose Something’ poem, here set to Randall Thompson’s music and paired with images captured by the Hubble telescope in those close and distant heavens.

Peeping Tom Reclining

I know they say the stars are so far away that the light from them left before the birth of Jesus; before the dinosaurs were even in middle school but still. When you look up at them they seem so present and benevolent, bending over out little cradle here.

Say you’re having one of those nights when you’re making twisted ropes of the bedsheets with all your tossing and turning, and adrenalin shot of anxiety keep jolting through your body.

Desperate, you get up and begin touring the house in your insomnia, straightening the pictures and talking to the chairs. You drink some water, not too much. Maybe you take a hot bath, hoping to stun yourself sleepy that way. Then, at the end of all that, just as you’re crawling back into the rope-nest of disordered sheets your eyes travel to the window and there on the other side of it is… Orion, big as life and back for the winter.

Even schoolchildren know Orion on sight, even on his back like this with his belt in its perfect three-star line-up, his dagger attached, his upraised arm and those wide, wide shoulders.

There were meteor showers over the weekend and you tried to see the 15 shooting stars an hour that were said to be visible. Alas clouds had rolled in by then and anyway you couldn’t stay awake.

There are no clouds this night and no meteor showers either but awake you are and glad to see this old gladiator lying on his side, leaning on one elbow and looking in at you as if to say “Hey.” You smile and turn away from him and are sleeping within 30 seconds.