Astronomical Verse: Three Sonnets
by James Ph. Kotsybar
ICARUS STAR Gravity makes a “magnifying glass” out of the space that it causes to bend -- a cosmic telescope that can surpass those on or around the Earth, and extend our visual range by two thousand fold, with a billions of light years focal length, allowing us to see a star so old, nine billion years ago, it shone full strength. Yes, that’s how far we’ve looked into the past To see a star, dead for billions of years. Blue supergiants burn hot and live fast, too passionate to hold their atmospheres. Icarus soars beyond moderation in legend and, now, our observation.
THE RADCLIFFE WAVE (“More Things in Heaven …”) It’s not in a far distant galaxy. It’s less than a thousand light years away – This gassy rope of stellar nursery, a sine wave, crisscrossing our Milky Way. Nine thousand light years long, not far from Earth, astronomers today just noticed it. Although parts of it were seen giving birth, our optics needed refining a bit to see this cosmic serpent in 4-D, determining its size and shape and when it last passed our local vicinity (in Earth years, that’s roughly thirteen million). Igniting, making our night sky more starred, it, nonetheless, was missed, in our backyard.
BETELGEUSE -- Big Orange Ball Of Hot Air An elderly giant, beyond your time,. you were the candidate most thought might blow; you fit the classic, tragic paradigm. All focused on you, expecting a show … “The hotter the star, the briefer its span.” So, when you lately began to look dim, we hoped to bear witness as you began to detonate, shrinking as a prelim. Now though that all the data’s assembled, we know that, though you seem dimmer to us, you’re the same sun you’ve always resembled, but you’ve obscured our view with veils of dust. Your supernova meltdown’s missed, because your belched out gas is all it’s seemed it was.
James Ph. Kotsybar, chosen for NASA’s special recognition, is the first poet published to another planet aboard NASA’s Mars orbiting MAVEN spacecraft. His poetry appears in the Hubble Space Telescope’s mission log and was awarded and featured at NASA’s Centaur’s 50th Anniversary Art Challenge. Invited by the President of the European Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters in 2018, he performed his poetry before an international audience of scientists and Troubadours (Europe’s oldest poetic institution) in their founding city of Toulouse, France, at the EuroScience Open Forum, earning a standing return invitation.
The “Que” Moment
by L.D. Burnett
When I was learning Spanish, there was a moment—and it really was just a moment—when a switch flipped somewhere in my brain and I no longer had to think about how to construct a clause or how to join clauses, which verbs to conjugate and which to leave in the infinitive. I call it my “que” moment because that’s what we were going to learn that day in Spanish II: the use of the relative pronoun “que” (“that”) to introduce an objective clause. (“I believe that we will win.” “Creo que vamos a ganar.”)
Most of us in everyday speech simply imply the relative pronoun: “I believe she’s at Harvard,” “I think it’s going to rain tomorrow.” But somehow, my little lizard brain—which wouldn’t have noticed a thing wrong with either of those sentences in spoken or written English—just knew that there was a missing word, a word that would be necessary to introduce an entire clause as the object of a verb, and guessed what it was.
I will never forget it: the cerebral click that makes everything make sense.
This moment came to mind recently because that little switch in my brain has been tripped once again.
Most of you know I’m working on a book. Since I’ve never done this before, I didn’t know what to expect. But I have learned that I was expecting way too much of myself, way too fast.
Most historians take seven to ten years from the time they defend their dissertation to the time they publish their first book—perhaps sometimes even longer.
Meanwhile, here I have been, five years out from defending my dissertation, agonizing over taking so long to complete a manuscript draft, feeling like a complete failure, etc., etc., etc.
Some of my friends tried to set me straight. (You are reading this; you know who you are.) But I persisted in thinking there must be something wrong with me, because all my work on this book up to this point has been nothing but scattered bits of prose that don’t cohere, sections on one primary source or another, whole chapters’ worth of narrative about one trend or another, and no sense at all that any of it matters or how it will go together.
Up to this point.
But now I have had my “que” moment. Suddenly, all at once, I know what I’m doing. I know exactly what I’m doing. The plan of the whole book, the scope of each chapter, each single step in the argument—all of it was clarified in an instant. An instant!
But of course this didn’t really happen all at once, any more than my “que” moment as a sophomore in high school happened all at once. I was a diligent student of Spanish. It was my favorite class, and my favorite thing: learning a new language. I kept a little notebook of vocabulary words to look up, I watched telenovelas, I read the Bible in Spanish, I voluntarily wrote a daily one-paragraph composition and asked my teacher to correct it. I did everything I could to absorb the language. The “que” moment clicked for me because I had put in the work.
I didn’t know that putting in the work on a book manuscript might include years of false starts, of faltering arguments, of failed structural ideas. If I wasn’t at least producing a mass of prose, was I putting in the work?
Oh yes. Yes I was. And it has finally paid off in a “que” moment to rule them all.
“I am working on my book and it is coming along well.” Now, for the first time, I am able to say this and believe it. And in a year or two, you should be able to see and judge the results for yourself.
In the meantime, if, perchance, you are a writer or artist or scholar who is just a teensy bit self-critical (writers? self-critical?), I hope this brief narrative encourages you to keep grinding away, even if you hate it, especially if you hate it. Your “que” moment will come, ¡y entonces qué gozo tendras!
L.D. Burnett is the editor of The Mudsill.
This is so great! And such a great reminder to us all, on a beautiful spring day -- our que moment will come. Thanks.