A Party of Star Gazers

I doubt I’ll be the first to report
a stranger lighting the sky,
a moth’s eye flaming,
the birth of a supernova.

As the shockwave of neutrinos registers
in water tanks miles underground,
my brass telescope sits on top of a cupboard.

I’m not a disciplined amateur,
watching Jupiter night after night
for subtle colour changes,
interpreting small differences.
My brass telescope
is a family occasion
for husbands and wives and children.
With a heavy duty electric torch
trained on the ground
and deliberately thumping feet
to warn my friends, the venomous snakes,
we walk out into the shockwave of cold air,
under an inflating sky.
We erect the telescope with its tripod
on a gravel crest
looking across the new garden’s dense tea-trees
regular as topiary, housing by day
a parliament of honey-eaters and parrots.
Children jostle to look through the eyepiece.
Adults stand back, interested.
I point out obvious features –
the rings of Saturn
that will granulate
after months of patient watching –
and craters of the moon.
Fine details,
a lava flow across the rim
of an impact crater
resolve themselves for the dedicated observer.

But not for this audience
of talkative appreciators,
sceptical but not technical.
Our breaths are suspended
like the icy detritus of comets.
On the first night of autumn we stand
some in cotton, some wearing wool,
enjoying the riddle of the sky,
not comprehending theory
that says everything came from nothing.
We know our fate is enacted in light
refracted through these lenses.
Blinking, our eyelashes brush
our beginning and our end –
or endless continuity.

from Spring Forest, Faber & Faber 1994, by permission of Geoffrey Lehmann.

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.