Liz Ahl
The Conjugations of Light
 

Which throws the brighter whitewash against
my camera's inner mirror: the full, powdery moon,
suspended like a searchlight over the downeast peninsula,
or the neon spill of it writhing on the water?
 
Even my skin's aglow in it, and the spider
endlessly revising her web on one corner of the deck
is enlarged against the side of the house,
a fierce projection, a trick.
 
Here on the edge of the earth,
a full-tilt moon like this comes every month,
light creeping through the blinds, asserting itself
everywhere, hardly filtered.
 
When the moon's eye finally closes,
stars emerge, and I haul out the telescope.
My special flashlight whispers a darkroom red –
just enough to illuminate star maps, but not enough
 
to burn the bridge between the constellations
and my hungry eyes, pupil-flooded and
trying to gulp what may only be sipped.
Can I cool this kind of thirst with such ancient light?
 
Once I spied the bracelets slung around Saturn;
once I pinned down the distant, sprinkled donut of M31.
Through the eyepiece I've drawn down
the drama of Vega, Altair, Deneb.
 
But forgetting never stops, a light
that's always diminishing – and so I don't find
the constellations. Instead, I invent them, taking cues
from memory's funhouse mirror.

 I twist new lines into vaguely pleasing shapes,
like I imagine conquering colonials
realign the borders of countries
with an almost whimsical brutality.
 
Mapmakers are always so busy,
even me, tonight, drawing lines
from star to dead star, a fragile set of directions,
a silver web that's never fully spun.
 
 


Trajectories
 
            --Apollo 13
 
To make it home, they had to keep
hurtling away from Earth, gathered by gravity
into lunar orbit, the dark side never
quite this dark before. 
 
Until the final burn they wouldn’t be allowed
to hold Earth in the window, where it belonged,
to burst towards it rather than let it fade
over their shoulders, shrinking to moon-size.
 
They had to turn their backs on home
and trust the stripped-down physics
of momentum and return.  They had to surrender
to the old forces and attractions.
 
To make it home, they had to fly away
from every instinct urging them to turn
around right there, as if the crippled craft
could turn on such a thin dime.
 
They had to believe in the machine,
that the spindly lunar lander as lifeboat
could do everything it wasn’t designed to do --
like them, it was supposed to go to the moon.
 
The nature of the adventure shifted
from the journey to the return -- coming home
was the new, untried frontier
as Cronkite called the play-by-play.
 
To make it home, they had to resurrect
the old imperatives, re-enter the race
that had already been run and won,
they had to want to make it home
 
like they wanted to make it to the moon.