my father the astronaut by Rachel Quist

When I was little we talked about anything but stars,
for after all God was not trapped between the celestial,
but among us, around us, infinitely near and infinitely far.
We lived in a tight pack, six of us pressed together at dinner,
interwoven like the threads of a cheap Goodwill sweater—
(the unravelling always comes later).

In the evening, I ran packed-dirt paths to the meadow
just to be among myself.

When I grew up I was twelve years old.
Before this, I had not yet learned that the earth’s rotation
was why astronauts were sealed up and launched in Florida.
Not only the land of dizzy-spun colors and laughing mice,
but white tables, white walls, white curtains and locked doors.
When your shuttle took off I was still stuck on Earth,
stuck staring into space and counting patterns in stars.

When I was too small to see it, you could always point
to the North Star at night.

Dad, can you hear me? I think the radio is broken...
they didn’t tell us when you left that the technology was finicky.
There are no messages for us in these clusters of static
even though I’ve been fiddling with the dial for years.
You can fix anything, remember? You could breathe life
into rusted metal no one gave a second glance to,
and to you, (still), a scrapyard holds a thousand possibilities.

I forgot when the shuttle home was scheduled to return.
I forgot whether or not it was a one-way flight.

I knew from your letter announcing you were back
that it had not been an easy fall out of orbit.
Eight years’ descent (and which half was descending?)
Turbulence, they said, tends to slow things down.
Did you miss me? (I don’t know how to ask:
Did you know I turned eighteen while you were away?)
I’m too old to hold my breath and make wishes on candles.

When the shuttle burned its way back into the atmosphere,
I still stared at the horizon and wished on the streak of light.

From the silent grave of eternal space and the lightyears I missed
comes the calamity of laughter and colors like a prism scattered,
overwhelmingly beautiful, the eye doesn’t know where to look.
I realize that as much as your orbit made me a stranger to you,
it kept me from recognizing the person I didn’t know was
myself, but more. And here we begin