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I. Some Saturdays

My father’s favorite nebula, Lemon Slice, is named after his favorite dessert. His mother made it from scratch, using lemon zest and juice from two fresh lemons. Some Saturday evenings during summer, we stay up late and make her secret recipe. We tell space stories and read books by Ray Bradbury until I fall asleep, full of milk and sweets.

 

II. Choice

For my father, the Lemon Nebula is a good choice. It’s young and still simple, still forming, still trying to find its place between dancing diamonds and nothingness.

 

III. Telling a Story

Once, a capsule containing two slumbering astronauts spins and flips and blips, lost beyond the Milky Way.

The capsule is adrift in space and needs the astronauts to wake.

This is the constellation of Camelopardalis, 4500 light years away, and inside the giraffe-shaped system is where the astronauts are: IC 3568, aka the Lemon Slice Nebula.

The older astronaut notes its perfect spherical morphology like a circular sliced fruit set on top of dark British tea.

The astronauts are jittery when Earth can no longer be seen and even the computer fails to register their home world.

Out the back window, a mirage shimmers and shakes, and they see a familiar blue-green shadow.

Out front, they can see just two of the eight planets within the system, set into the hush of space.

There’s so much helium here that both astronauts float, exploring, searching, taking measurements, worried about their survival.

And at first, it seems funny to squeak like a mouse, until they peer into the nebula’s sunflower heart, until the vacuum begins to push against the capsule.

Then, from outside the ship, a low snarl.

They see cosmic dust shift and move, a ballet of yellow and white. The cosmic dust hungers for any oxygen it can find.

 

IV. A Lemon Picture

My birth mom drinks lemonade straight from a glass pitcher on a porch I have never seen. She does not yet know she will go light years away into the cloak of space. She has lemon hair, lemon eyes, and I can see a smile even as she chugs her favorite drink. She is happy to be pregnant. Soon, she will become the world-famous Lost Astronaut.

 

V. Secret

I hate the sour punch of lemons.

 

VI. Names

When scientists look into the deep veins of space, they name the nebula after what they think it looks like, so we get names like Ant Nebula because the two white circles have streaks of dust extending from both sides which resemble little legs.

I prefer Butterfly Nebula because anything with a bright white heart and two burning red wings must be a beautiful sight to see up close.

I giggle over the funny named ones like Pacman Nebula or Monkey Head Nebula or the funniest, Running Chicken Nebula; names no different than when Father calls me Sweet Pea or Lemony.

I love how nebulae are individual bodies of clouds and pockets of gas with constellations and planets and faraway stars, how we still name everything we see even when we know so little about what is going on up there.

 

VII. Telling Another Story

Not every story is easy to understand. Take the one about the astronaut with sad eyes, who goes on a secret mission to save the world. She flies a lemon saucer that she must slowly eat because the trip is so long and so far from Earth. The ship is named Pip and has a piano with one dead key that aggravates her as she plays Bach and Mozart. Both engines are powered by Tiger Swallowtails and Southern Dogfaces as they flutter toward a lonely planet full of sunflowers and miniature fruit trees. A crying Giraffe named Adieu watches over the planet. Everything there waits for her music, and when she arrives, they never let her go.

 

VIII. Dead Stars & New Nebulae

When father says nebulae are direct results of a star’s death, I think about our Sun. Is our sun dying? Will it make a new nebula? Where do we go when we die?

Here is what I know: as the fuel of the star runs out, its material expands. I imagine it’s like a big shirt that loosens up over time until all the threads come loose. After a while, gravity is larger than the nuclear thrust in the core and the star collapses into itself, catapulting the material into space, which is like a big, dark waiting room. There in a different place, a nebula forms.

Like me, something must die for something else to be born.

 

 

[Editor’s Note: Publication of this poem was made possible by a gift from Susan Jessen during our annual Kickstarter.]



M. E. Silverman had two books of poems published and co-edited Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, and 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium. More at mesilverman.org, and on Twitter @4ME2Silver.
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