I think we see God through the aperture. I think that’s how we’re able to hold her on our tongue without burning up.
Tracy K. Smith’s “My God, It’s Full of Stars” gives us God through the peephole of the universe’s countless eyes. It’s a diorama-in-verse, of how to be open to wonder, to exhilaration, to the messy, catastrophically gorgeous parameters of the world, whether you are the child of a scientist who once worked on the Hubble Telescope, whether you are 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Dave himself, “whisked into the center of space, / Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light / Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid / For a love-struck bee”.
The poem takes its time on us, and in us. In its five moments, I feel less that the poem constructs atop itself, and more that it builds inward. It makes excavations of the very void we call absence, tunneling into it to taste, for example, “the blank / Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone”, “Atlantis buried under ice, gone / One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.”
Perhaps the very void we call barren, billowing darkness is itself a misnomer, as the poem’s third section asks. What if energy we can’t sense is cuddling up to us in every second? What if we can never adjust our personal scientific equipment — our head, our heart — to an aperture that allows enough God in? “My God, It’s Full of Stars” becomes the most extraordinary kind of coping mechanism that exists: a valve that measures both our inability to process the universe, and a route to stay wide-eyed despite frustration. We needn’t know the name of every star, to say we love and fear the night.
This is the first installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.