Once in awhile I discover a scientist who writes a poem that moves me. That was the case with this poem, by the astronomer Rebecca Elson. I wish I’d had a chance to know her. She died at 39, but wrote, A Responsibility to Awe, edited and published after her death.
Antidotes to Fear of Death
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.
Rebecca Elson (1960-1999)