(after the painting by Vermeer)
There is a beaten-copper glow in the day's
angle of descent, the inevitable slide toward gloaming.
The young man has pushed aside the table's coverlet
in blue-black waves of disregard—splay of palm,
sickle blade, half-faces of strange fauna.
He leans toward the celestial globe,
fingers what the day's last, burning exhalations
swathe in yellow-gold. Swirl and vortex of sinuous,
star-boned beasts. Perhaps they are nothing
more than articulations of chaos joined
by primitive minds. Or, perhaps, some deity's
brilliant arithmetic which breathed life into the stars.
The astronomer tucks a tangle of auburn hair
behind his ear in one fluid, habitual motion.
Above his head, the casement forges a golden arrow.
Its fiery tip illuminates the pale flesh of his
index finger paused over Cassiopeia.
Soon, the room will be trellised in shadow. Soon,
stars will shiver like water sluiced from uplifted wings.
The astronomer will rise from the darkened table,
stroll under night's cloud-shirred dome.
So much left to wonder at each day's flared
conclusion. Chance? Order? What manner of
burning alphabet? And deity? Divider, radial chart,
the astrolabe's glittering arcs. And this figured
geometry wrapped in the calf-scent of vellum.
He fixes a spot on the whorled face of captive sky,
strains for a theory of accident or purpose,
unable to see what his hands already know.
The right, As above. The left, So below.