Thinking About the Eclipse, with poems

Until today, I hadn't thought much about the eclipse coming up. It's partial for us-- although, bonus! that means it will last longer, I hear. Even so, why was I was ignoring it? I finally realized that I already experienced the very ultimate total solar eclipse. That was in Managua, Nicaragua in 1991-- and not by design but because we just happened to be there for the year.

Up until that time, I had viewed-- and written about-- many lunar experiences, including eclipses, like this poem:


Seven star ladle
flecks into the black sky.  For
all its darkness, light.

Moon, less moon, moonless.
Still, clouds and stars. Then moon, more
moon, mooniest moon.


This poem was the first I ever won a contest (and money) for, which came with an illustration by a Cleveland artist named Julie Watkins for a poster on buses all over Cleveland, which I stole dozens of the last week it was up. It was the shortest poem I could make out of the longest moon viewing I had ever sat through.

Years later, while I was teaching at The University of Findlay, there was a partial solar eclipse one day, and we were all invited by our terrific astronomy prof, Sam Littlepage, to a rooftop to view it through special equipment, and I wrote this:


We stood on the roof                                      
at lunch time with fifty people,                     
passing the mylar glasses                             
that let you look.                                           
In front of us a machine                                  
projected the shadow                                     
of what passed on the screen                          
where we saw the moon                                 
don her gray pearls                                         
and slip over the sun,                                     
leaving a ring of light                                     
like the circular tube                                      
of a kitchen fluorescent.                                 
Everyone agreed they had really                  
seen something and then                               
went back to work.   


But experiencing that eclipse in Managua in 1991 thoroughly unnerved me--in a good way. And get this: we didn't even look at it. We had no glasses. We had been warned. So we went out to the backyard of our temporary housing, a large building with many rooms, empty that day, and backyard, so huge and walled that, while it was in the city, it was filled with tropical vegetation that seemed miles away from anything. Without ever looking up, we experienced the awe of a total eclipse.  I'll let the poem tell you the rest. But I will say this: don't worry if you can't lay hands on glasses next Monday: go out and feel the eclipse.  


            Managua, Nicaragua 1991

Maybe the doomsday part
didn’t happen just for us, or maybe
we misread, but eleventh century
Mayans predicted the 1991 event
in Nicaragua to the day
in data that scientists can decipher
now, and not just squiggles
we pretend to understand.

Surprising for our epoch,
the three Managua dailies agreed
for the first time: looking at the eclipse
would be bad news,
which it was, the day after
when each carried photos
of people looking up, aside stories
of all those blinded.

So we stood in that backyard,
looking only as high
as the papayas hanging
like orange caution signals
while the lights went down
as in a church right before
the ushers march in with candles
on Christmas Eve.

The sun foisted its absence on us
minute by minute
as the birds launched into vespers,
then awful screeching
as though rubber on pavement
that turns to crash
and instead, an enormous
hush happened as blackness fell.
We couldn’t see to return
to the house, couldn’t even
see each other, just stood
embracing in the sudden deep
silence, not knowing how soon
it would pass, feeling not doom
but a boon: feeling something
we’d never not seen before.