Agnes Mary Clerke (1842-1907) was not a practical astronomer, but wrote a number of important books and articles that explained existing astronomical research to the general public.
Winter, the ghosts of fuchsias sigh;
in the frost, the fox chews mouse-tails.
I step in each of my father’s foot-prints
as we carry the telescope up the rise.
I name the constellations. It is like owning them.
I feel the voice of each star in my bones:
Andromeda speaks to me deep and hollow,
in tune with an organ’s lowest notes
and I forget I am in Skibbereen, as, years later,
I forget I am in Greenwich, in my rented rooms.
I cannot walk alone to the observatory:
at night only the sky is safe for women
so I sit in my attic, the ghost of myself,
remembering the girl on the frost-sharp hill
who thought she’d own moons,
and I see the sky so full of movement
it is like finding an ant-hill, first one ant
walks over a leaf, then another, and another,
until the world seems to be nothing but ants.
The sky is made of stars, an envelope of light,
and it is always open, always safe for everyone.
I am my telescope, always looking:
I belong here, we all do, all like the girl
on the starlit hill, bright with cold.
Image credit: Clerke lunar crater – 7 km in diameter, located at 21.7°N, 29.8°E near the Taurus Littrow Valley where Apollo 17 landed on 11 December 1972. It is named after Agnes Mary Clerke. NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University via LROC.
Part of The Learned Pig’s Wolf Crossing editorial season, spring/summer 2017.