You can’t describe it,
They have to see it for themselves.
They have to stand in the darkness,
Wrapped up against the cold,
Hold a Thinsulated glove up to their face
And see it silhouetted against the stars.
They have to drink it in,
Remembering their barren sky back home,
That ugly orange dome with every glittering star erased.
No place in it even for Venus; only a 40 watt
Moon pierces the gloom sometimes,
And the ISS has never been seen
Arcing lazily from west to east –

But here

Gasps in the dark as a blue shooting star
Skips from Pegasus to Plough,
The first some have ever seen;
Laser pointers’ emerald beams sweep across the sky,
One shining right in Cassiopeia’s eyes
As she hangs from her throne overhead;
Its long face stained by the Dark Rift’s dusty birthmark,
The Milky Way is a cloud of campfire smoke
Rising up from behind the trees;
Cygnus’ star clouds shimmer in the midnight breeze
As the Pleiades sparkle in the east;
A voyeur satellite peeks beneath flirty Andromeda’s skirt
Before fading away again…

Some are thrilled by their first paddle
Into this endless sea of stars.
Standing on its shore for the f‏irst time
It’s written on their faces – awe, wonder;
They can hear the universe’s waves roaring in their ears
As they stand in line to peer into an eyepiece
At something else they have never seen before:
A galaxy, a cluster, each one more utterly beautiful
Than the last…
Others struggle to take it in.
There are too many stars, it’s all too large,
And to think that that fuzzy blur The Expert insisted
Is two million light years away
Is frightening, not amazing.
As wide-eyed kids dash from ‘scope to ‘scope
Some feel only lonely and small beneath it all,
Crushed beneath the Cosmos’ uncaring heel –

But over there, in a quiet corner on their own,
Hypnotised by Vega’s vivid light,
Someone else is close to tears.
“I had no idea… no idea” she whispers,
Unknowingly repeating Ellie Arroway’s words
As she bathed her face in the same star’s sapphire light.
I say nothing, just nod and smile,
And stand with her a while,
Remembering how I felt when I was her…

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016

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