How to measure distance: a poem by Charlotte Pence

Guernica’s e-newsletter led me to a lovely poem by Charlotte Pence (daughter of Spike, not Mike), which led me to her website, which led me to this sparkling nugget, such a perfect thing to discover right after posting my review of In the Distance, Hernan Diaz’s book!

How to measure distance*
a poem by Charlotte Pence

I. Only Use Light Years When Talking to the General Public

or to squirrels testing spring between two
branches. Or to a new mother saddened
by thoughts of earth and its death; sun’s death;
her death. She watches her husband leave
the room for a burp cloth, wonders, could she
do it without him? What’s the measurement
of distance between two people growing
too close, too quickly?

II. The Measures We Use Depend on What We Are Measuring

Distance between parents? Hills? Rogue comets?
Within our solar system, distance is
measured in Astronomical Units.
Or “A.U.,” an abbreviation that
sounds similar to the “ow” of a toe
stub. Or similar to the sound of a mother
teaching the beginning of all sound. “Ah,
eh, ee, oo, uu.” Watch her mouth widen,
purr, and close. This is the measurement
for what we call breath.

III. For Most Everything Else—Stars, Galaxies, Etc…. —the Distance Unit Is the Parsec (pc). This Is a Convenient Unit

for gathering groceries, grains in silos,
gasses we cannot package and discount.

This is convenient, too, when measuring
stars’ distances by triangulation.
1 pc = 3.26 light years =
about the distance to the nearest star.

An equal sign leading to an “about.”

An estimate. A close enough.
Close enough feels safer than being wrong.
Or exact. “Close enough,” we say of that
asteroid skimming past our atmosphere’s skin.
“Close enough,” we say when he returns
with a guest towel.

IV. For Distances Within our Galaxy or Other Galaxies, It Is Kiloparsecs
She is unsure what fatherhood will do
to him. Accurate measurements require
one to know where one stands, where one belongs,
where one imagines going. Rub the toe
of the blue shoe into the dust. See how
the dust is not a bit bluer. The shoe,
a bit browner. Distance = a thing
between and against.

V. The Exception to These Units Is When One is Studying a Smaller Object

Father to mother to early zygote.
Branch to squirrel to tail-twitch and release.
Knee to toe to spring mud too soft to flake.
No units for these.

VI. One Might Say, “Its Radius Is 5 Solar Radii”, Meaning It Is 5 Times the Size of our Sun

Her fear is five times the size of sun, five
times the hours of sleep or lack thereof.
Five times the huddle of father, mother,
child. Five times the energy created
for one nap as opposed to the distance
of that nap, that leap.

VII. She Wants Answers
but is realizing that won’t happen.

She fears the truth that nothing stays the same.
Rashes fade, yet skin will prickle again.
Cries will quiet, yet the quiet will cry.
The man will leave, yet the same man will leave
again. That’s why eyes are bloodshot, why she
answers questions as if she doesn’t care.
All answers are “almost” or “about”—
everything moving. And this thing called light
years is a distance she can’t comprehend,
yet somewhere she squirms at one forever-
changing end of it.

*Note: Italics indicate lines are from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center website written by Jonathan Keohane.

I can’t help but draw other connections. “Au” is also:

Source of the poem: Charlotte’s website, accessed 4 January 2018, and I think the heading “Uncollected Poems” means it hasn’t been published anywhere else?

Choosing to walk my own path: the beginning

HilmaafKlint-Altar.jpg
Group X, Altar paintings #1. Hilma af Klint (c) Hilma af Klint Foundation

I keep thinking about the months of January through June of 1998. I struggle with how to label this period, because to say something like “this was a massively influential time for me” or “it was the most pivotal inflection point of my life” feels like an understatement.

Looking back, I genuinely believe that choosing to leave the life I had known up until that point allowed me to begin to discover who I was. And because I was, for the first time in my life, evaluating the world around me based on my own lens / my own value system / an expanded sense of what might be possible, I discovered several practices and perspectives that have been with me ever since.

What happened (in a nutshell)

Two and a half years into a Bachelor of Science degree at McGill University, I had become disillusioned with science as a way to explain the world. I fell into an existential crisis that called my entire approach to life into question: Why was I working toward a degree that reduced everything I loved into numbers and statistics… particularly when all the trends seemed to show that everything was doomed?

More importantly: Why was I in university at all? I certainly hadn’t made a conscious decision about the matter. Twenty years into my life, I suddenly realized I had been blindly following the path that had been laid out for me, with little regard for what I actually wanted to do, much less who I actually might be.

Then “Ice Storm ’98,” one of the worst national disasters in Canada’s history, hit…. right at the beginning of McGill’s winter semester. Continue reading “Choosing to walk my own path: the beginning”

Inverness Almanac: a biased review from a contributor

The first volume of the Inverness Almanac moved me on a number of levels. The publishers, a group that coalesced around a dear friend of mine, curated such a delicious collection of photographs and drawings and writings and maps and recipes and seasonal markers! And then they pulled it all together into a stunningly beautiful package, a book that is a work of art in and of itself.

I had been visiting West Marin since before my birth, appreciating its topography and ecology since I’ve been a conscious human, and living there for years when they released Volume 1. And yet the sense of place conveyed within this Almanac opened my eyes to my surroundings in a completely different way. It was as if my powers of observation had been magnified. Everything seemed different, more luminous, containing so much more to discover if I could sit still long enough — or return frequently enough — to receive it.

That first Almanac also shook awake my writer’s muscle. I found myself unable to pass through the landscape without composing works that wanted to find their place among other contributions, and I vowed to submit something to the next Volume. Perhaps the San Andreas fault that seemed to be writing itself every time I entered Olema Valley? Or a drivers’ guide to Bolinas Lagoon, sharing my favorite seasonal points of interest?

Continue reading “Inverness Almanac: a biased review from a contributor”

Spring upwelling: as within, so without

Big changes in the physical landscape never fail to put “big” changes in my life into perspective; this week, it’s been calming to think about seasonal shifts that affect West Marin.

In case a diagram like this didn’t appear in your high school and college textbooks, here you go:

On my way to work yesterday there were so many egrets hunting I pulled over to watch for a bit – there’s clearly more life in the lagoon these days. The Spring Winds have started, and Sito was telling me that the water temperature dropped dramatically over the last week. Then Sam posted this amazing piece… it’s all connected.

Continue reading “Spring upwelling: as within, so without”

Reasons

Kitties

Several months ago my friend Mike mentioned an article he’d read about a parasite in cats that may contribute to turning people into (as I remember him telling the story) crazy cat ladies. As I have become more and more smitten with this handsome kitty, it amuses me to imagine that his rough licks are in fact a form of feline manipulation rather than a demonstration of any affection.

Why wouldn’t he want to infect me? Well, for one, why else would I get out of bed at the first sound of his meow Continue reading “Reasons”