The Star Splitter
`You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains, And rising on his hands, he looks in on me Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something I should have done by daylight, and indeed, After the ground is frozen, I should have done Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney To make fun of my way of doing things, Or else fun of Orion’s having caught me. Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights These forces are obliged to pay respect to?’ So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming, Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming He burned his house down for the fire insurance And spent the proceeds on a telescope To satisfy a lifelong curiosity About our place among the infinities. `What do you want with one of those blame things?’ I asked him well beforehand. `Don’t you get one!’ `Don’t call it blamed; there isn’t anything More blameless in the sense of being less A weapon in our human fight,’ he said. `I’ll have one if I sell my farm to buy it.’ There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground And plowed between the rocks he couldn’t move, Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years Trying to sell his farm and then not selling, He burned his house down for the fire insurance And bought the telescope with what it came to. He had been heard to say by several: `The best thing that we’re put here for’s to see; The strongest thing that’s given us to see with’s A telescope. Someone in every town Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one. In Littleton it might as well be me.’ After such loose talk it was no surprise When he did what he did and burned his house down. Mean laughter went about the town that day To let him know we weren’t the least imposed on, And he could wait—we’d see to him tomorrow. But the first thing next morning we reflected If one by one we counted people out For the least sin, it wouldn’t take us long To get so we had no one left to live with. For to be social is to be forgiving. Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us, We don’t cut off from coming to church suppers, But what we miss we go to him and ask for. He promptly gives it back, that is if still Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of. It wouldn’t do to be too hard on Brad About his telescope. Beyond the age Of being given one for Christmas gift, He had to take the best way he knew how To find himself in one. Well, all we said was He took a strange thing to be roguish over. Some sympathy was wasted on the house, A good old-timer dating back along; But a house isn’t sentient; the house Didn’t feel anything. And if it did, Why not regard it as a sacrifice, And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire, Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction? Out of a house and so out of a farm At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn To earn a living on the Concord railroad, As under-ticket-agent at a station Where his job, when he wasn’t selling tickets, Was setting out, up track and down, not plants As on a farm, but planets, evening stars That varied in their hue from red to green. He got a good glass for six hundred dollars. His new job gave him leisure for stargazing. Often he bid me come and have a look Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside, At a star quaking in the other end. I recollect a night of broken clouds And underfoot snow melted down to ice, And melting further in the wind to mud. Bradford and I had out the telescope. We spread our two legs as we spread its three, Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it, And standing at our leisure till the day broke, Said some of the best things we ever said. That telescope was christened the Star-Splitter, Because it didn’t do a thing but split A star in two or three, the way you split A globule of quicksilver in your hand With one stroke of your finger in the middle. It’s a star-splitter if there ever was one, And ought to do some good if splitting stars ‘Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood. We’ve looked and looked, but after all where are we? Do we know any better where we are, And how it stands between the night tonight And a man with a smoky lantern chimney? How different from the way it ever stood?