The planets whirled across the blackboard all morning,
Saturn with its twelve rings, Jupiter with its belts,
red Mars, green Venus, the familiar blue Earth
where we sat in that eighth-grade class learning light
years, 8 light minutes for the sun’s rays to touch my arm,
Alpha Centauri 4.4 light years away,
Betelgeuse, the giant red star in Orion’s shoulder,300,
Rigel, the blue giant in Orion’s knee, 540,
the vastness of blackness suddenly ours
while Richie Reese picked his nose
and lovely Karen Awlen hitched up her dress. Infinity and eternity
blurred by the sun in dull yellow chalk
as I felt the pull of the planets and their moons
hold me in my desk where carved hearts orbited
with the names of those I did not know, Jimmy loves Sue,
Tina and Barry circled by a ring of smoke drifting
up from a speeding Chevy, I Love My Dog, Snookie,
etched in small, straight lines by the inkwell. 1944, 1946, 1950, 53, 56,
each year trailed names the way Halley’s
comet trailed light that October morning,
and I carved Lorraine, 1958, with a crescent moon cupping it
while Sister Angelica told us Copernicus knew the Earth was a wanderer,
Galileo the first to see the phases of Venus, sunspots‚
telling us about the Black Hole that sucked all light into it,
spreading her black-winged arms and wrapping Margaret Blake
to show her what it was like, unfolding Margaret’s chalk-white face
when she began to cry the face that would begin to glow white
in a few years and then fade, cancer of the lungs they said
but we all knew it was the blackness she saw back in that class,
blackness revolving in Sister’s heart,
blackness of distances we could not even imagine,
blackness we heard even then in Margaret’s sobs while cosmic
clouds floated on the board with the label,“raw material of creation,”
where stars were born and died,
and planets whirled on their inevitable paths.