Saturn’s Rings

Last night I saw the rings of Saturn
for the first time, that brilliant band
of icy crystals and dust. Mirrors
shepherded the light, collecting it
like pollen or manna
or pails of sweet clear water drawn
from the depths of an ancient well.
The gleam poured through my pupils
into this small, temporary body,
my wrinkled brain in its eggshell skull,
my tunneling blood, breasts that remember
the sting and flush of milk.
Saturn, its frozen rings fire-white,
reflecting the sun from a billion miles.
Maybe there’s a word in another language
for when distance dissolves into time.
How are we changed when we stand out
under the fat stars of summer,
our pores opening in the damp night?
The earth from Saturn is a pale blue orb,
smaller than the heart of whoever you love.
You don’t forget the poles of the earth
slowly turning to slush,
you don’t forget the turtles
burning in the Gulf.
The Burger King at the end of the street
is frying perfectly round patties,
the cows off I-5 stand ankle deep
in excrement. The television
spreads its blue wings over the window
of the house across from mine
where someone’s husband pressed a gun
against the ridged roof of his mouth.
This choreography of ruin, the world breaking
like glass under a microscope, the way it doesn’t crack
all at once, but spreads out from the damaged cavities.
Still for a moment it all recedes.
The backyard potatoes swell quietly
buried beneath their canopy of leaves.
The wind rubs its hands through the trees.

Ellen Bass is the author of The Human Line and Mules of Love, which won the Lambda Literary Award. She teaches at Pacific University in Oregon.