The Galilean Moons

by Kathleen Jamie

for Nat Jansz

Low in the south sky shines
the stern white lamp
of planet Jupiter. A man
on the radio said
it’s uncommonly close,
and sequestered in the telescope lens
it’s like a compère, spotlit,
driving its borrowed light
out to all sides equally
while, set in a row in the dark
beyond its blaze,
like seed-pearls,
or coy new talents
awaiting their call onstage
– what must be, surely,
the Galilean moons.

In another room,
my children lie asleep, turning
as Earth turns, growing
into their own lives, leaving me
a short time to watch, eye
to the eye-piece,
how a truth unfolds –
how the moonlets glide
out of their chance alignment,
each again to describe
around its shared host its own
unalterable course. Tell me,

Galileo, is this
what we’re working for?
– the knowledge that in just
one Jovian year
the children will be gone
uncommonly far, their bodies
aglow, grown, talented – become
mere bright voice-motes
calling from the opposite
side of the world…

what else would we want
our long-sighted instruments
to assure us of ? I’d like
to watch for hours, see
what you old astronomers
apprehended for the first time,
bowed to the inevitable…

but it’s late already:
the next day’s obligations
pluck at my elbow
like an infant who needs his mother,
next-door’s dog barks,
and cloud arrives, distilled,
it appears, out of nothing.