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Published: Tue Jul 1 2008
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
What the Sky Is Like

It is winter, and you’re crying. It is snowing hard. Snow weighing on rooftops, pushing at fences and sign posts, clinging to the sides of trees as if the center of gravity had suddenly shifted to the center of each separate thing.

You get up and raise the blinds: snow coming at you, streaming through your reflection. Not snow, but stars! You’re alone in your cabin on a star ship, in your comfort pajamas, eating comfort food, by the light of the stars’ red shift: the difference between where things are and where your senses put them.

Just as now: your senses tell you that your heart is breaking, but your heart keeps beating strong. You’re cruising the space between galaxies, where atoms spread out one per every thousand miles. Not a vacuum but an ocean, seen from up close. Not a ship but a stone that falls and falls through the core of  your own black hole.

I see a schooner, with three great sails and eighteen cannons.

I see a sky cat crossing a mountain pass. Down below, a flash of tinsel—a glimpse of stream with fish jumping in it—so that the sky cat stops by instinct, but no longer a kitten, glides on.

Legend has it that the souls of paratroopers wander here, who stepped into the sunlight and understood everything.

So from dust as seeds, great structures grow. Continents emerge from the mantel. Mountains and vast cities rise. Machines from cultures so advanced we can barely imagine what they do. Not a star gate but a wish machine. Not a ship but a kind of telescope that collapses the distance between the watcher and the thing that’s being watched. I point it at you: it’s not above lying; it’s a wish machine. It tells me that you love me true—daisy petals, then a heart appearing. I point it toward the Horsehead Nebula: here it is. The Cat’s Eye. The Pleiades. The Rose. Puppis A.

I can see the bloody back and forth across the Tigris and Euphrates. The oceans burning.

The first collection by Alpay Ulku is Meteorology (BOA Editions), selected as an “Exciting Debut” by the Academy of American Poets book club. His poems have recently appeared in The American Poetry Review, FIELD, AGNI, Poetry Northwest, and Ploughshares, and have been reprinted in Poetry Daily. He has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provicetown, the Iowa Arts Council, the Edna St.Vincent Millay Colony, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. (updated 10/2015)

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