Archive for Science and poetry

Space Haiku

Silk Road Photo

Central Asian Caravan Woman Rousing her Camel While Nursing

China, Tang Dynasty 618-906 C.E.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Kansas City, Missouri

Today at the local food coop, I watched a young woman nurse her baby while she texted away on her phone.  I enjoyed the irony of moms then and moms now:  always more than one thing to be done at the same time.

I wrote these haiku after reading an article about the earth’s risk of being hit by an asteroid.  I was also working to get the yard and garden in shape for summer.  The juxtaposition of what is going on in space and what I am doing here on earth appealed to me.

Asteroids whizz by

millions of miles away.

Brown toad in garden.


Meteor of stone

veined with iron-red lacework.

Crochet a sampler.


Pictures of an asteroid

arrive from Deep Space.

Petals fall like snow.


The asteroid belt

lies just short of Jupiter.

Horses graze on grass.


A moon in orbit

follows asteroid to earth.

Light bulb drops, splinters.


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Six Degrees of Possibility

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Austin, Texas

It is mid-January and the forecast is for high temperatures of six degrees.  Just two months ago we were enjoying the end of autumn in Texas.  Some Monarchs were enjoying the flowers in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin before continuing their migration to Mexico.

Butterfly Water

The up-turned bottles I push into my garden –

amber, clear and two shades of green –

sparkle in the sunlight after a shower,

their concave bottoms ready to catch


the rain for butterflies in my garden of verbena,

blanket-flower, and yellow goldenrod.

Forester grasses are bent and dripping;

there’s a soft buzz of bees near butterfly weed.


Then, a Monarch flutters by and hovers

at a cluster of purple verbena blossoms,

proboscis prodding for sweet nectar

to sustain the long migration to Mexico


where Oyamel trees provide shelter

until the Monarchs turn north again.

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The Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012

The Transit of Venus,  June 5, 2012

Transits occur at lengthy intervals.  At the time of the 1882 Transit, Emily Dickinson

was contemplating publication of her poems.  The next Transit will be in 2117.

In a rare alignment of planets,

Venus eclipses the Sun.

It is sunset and in the West,

the Transit is in progress.

Venus touches the edge of the sun.

A mysterious black drop appears,

a ligament of darkness between the

Sun and the Planet…

Then Venus,

orbiting between Sun and Earth,

appears as a black dot

and crosses the face of the sun.

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Honorable Mention

This weekend was the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets spring conference, and I received an Honorable Mention for the Muse Prize, an annual prize open to all Wisconsin poets.  It was also my first WFOP Conference, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was like many conferences I’ve been to.  It was held in a hotel with hotel food and tables in a big room, unreliable microphones and lots of networking among members. 

In addition, there were speakers and Roll Call Poems, where everyone in attendence rose, introduced themselves and read a poem.  The poems were funny, poignant, sad, inciteful…everything you could want from a group of poets.  I learned that there are 529 members and there is a ratio of 2.6 women to men. 

There was also “Survivor:  Poetry Island.”  Members listed three words on a piece of paper.  A list was selected at random and a panel of four poets each wrote a poem using those three words.  They had five minutes.  The results were obviously spontaneous and very funny.  The idea was to vote one poet off the panel after each round.

About 125 people submitted poems for the Muse Prize.  There were three Honorable Mentions and a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner.   So I feel very honored to receive recognition from this group.  The judge was Sheila Packa, the Duluth, Minnesota Poet Laureate.   I wrote the poem after reading about the Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that no energy or matter can leave or enter a closed system.  

Carol’s Dog

I couldn’t remember what the dog was called.

It followed me through the State Street crowd.

The boy came next, his pace matching mine.

His accent was foreign; Roman, he said.

“In a closed system, like the sun and earth,

matter cannot be created or destroyed.

The Law of Conservation promises…

in effect, it’s a promise of eternity.”

At Marquette, we talked to some priests

who tried to explain their experience of Belief,

and I remembered:  the dog belonged to Carol.

Its following me was an act of faith.

The boy, whose name was Luke, said,

“Things cannot be born from nothing,”

which meant Carol’s dog was

an other matter altogether.

The day was transforming into night.

I told the priests I wanted to return

to talk about science:  this system

in which energy can only convert itself;

and when we die,

the heat of my body

and the boy and the dog

will simply change hands.

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Rejected Poem

Another rejected poem.  Should I try to get it published elsewhere?  No.  It was written for a Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets contest:  to write a poem from the point of view of someone else, e.g., a historical figure.  I chose Caroline Herschel because I am fascinated with her life and the fact that no one has – probably – ever heard of her.  Such an obscure figure that she was likely not of interest to the contest judge.  It would take too much space to explain who she is.  Here’s Caroline’s story and the poem, a sonnet.

Caroline Herschel, nick-named Lina, was born in Hanover, Germany in 1750.  She was the first woman to discover a comet.  She was disfigured by small pox and typhus.  Her brother William rescued her from life as a maid when he called her to join him in Bath, England where he was hired as an organist.  He taught her to sing and to assist him in his astronomical studies.  William is famous for discovering the planet Uranus.

When her brother was absent, Caroline started to make her own observations.  On August 1, 1876, Caroline discovered her first comet, the “First Lady’s Comet;” the first comet to be discovered by a woman.  She went on to discover a total of eight comets. 

Caroline also corrected the star catalogue of the day, adding 500 omissions; produced a catalogue of nebulae; and was awarded a gold medal in 1828 by the Royal Astronomical Society.   Her dream was to ride a comet!  After William died, Caroline returned to Hanover and died in 1848 at the age of 97. 

Lina’s Comet

 The night sky sparkles; I am not alone.

I’ll map just one more bit before I’m through.

I move my telescope, slowly, up…down,

and look for a star, just one, that is new.

Cold feet, numb fingers; writing in the dark.

I am awake all night, no time to sleep.

I’m hungry, too, but I can’t stop the work.

I must record everything I see.

Is that a comet?  If it is, I could be…

It will be called the “First Lady’s Comet.”

I’ll catalogue the stars and nebulae,

win medals from the Royal Society,

but my dream…riding to the edge of space

on a comet’s orbit back to this place.

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Actually, You Need a Dog

We were talking about puppies.

Elsa said, “Too much work.”

But Adrian looked up and said,

“Actually, you need a dog.”


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Naming Telescopes

In the SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence), a good telescope is invaluable.  In fact, the use of a telescope seems to confirm the anthropic principle:  the universe exists only because we are here to perceive it. 

To perceive is also to name.  The world’s largest telescope is at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.  It is referred to as VLT.   According to the European Southern Observatory webpage, the VLT array is “the flagship facility for European ground-based astronomy at the beginning of the third Millennium.”  An even larger, proposed telescope is called EELT.

What does VLT mean?  Something spacey like “Vortex Longitudinal Telescope”?  No.  It means VERY LARGE TELESCOPE.  And EELT?  EELT is the European EXTREMELY LARGE Telescope. 

Astronomers may be able to imagine extraterrestial life, but they are very bad at naming their equipment.

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