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November evening, ’23: Observing the heavens with a child

By William Collen

Now that the sun is below the horizon

we’ll wait for an hour and then walk outside

and I’ll teach you the names of the stars as they come.

First is Jupiter, royal and golden,

a wandering star, and rising now easterly.

Then there is Vega, the gem in the lyre,

there in the west, a pale spark of flame.

Look next to Vega—there, slightly higher—

and trace with care the wings of the swan.

The swan flies southward, but past it the bright one

is orange Altair, the eye of the eagle.

Look to the north. Tangled up in the treetops

the dipper wheels slowly, stately and close.

Fixèd Polaris, the axis and center,

lies high to the dipper, and points the way north.

Across from the dipper and high in the east

is the letter: an M, or a W, they say.

It signifies, I think, some primitive queen.

There above Jupiter is a dim region

but lurking within is the great spiral nebula,

too faint to see this close to the city.

If we were far into the depths of the country,

we could see stars in majestic profusion.

Once, on a camping trip three or four years ago,

I couldn’t sleep so I looked at the stars.

There were more stars than sky; dense beyond reckoning.

Low in the east was a thin crescent moon.

I went back to bed but the sleep wouldn’t come

so I ventured outside again. There in the heavens

the stars had rotated; the moon was now higher

and as I beheld it a fear came upon me.

Listen now, closely. It wasn’t a fear

of a coming disaster, or craven unease

at the absence of light. It was mingled with joy.

I was afraid, but the fear was a holy one;

I felt the presence of my Lord and Maker.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;”

that night at the campsite I knew it was true.

I knew my own smallness. I knew that He knew me.

I knew that He loved me, there under the stars.

Come now, it’s cold out. Let’s get back inside.

It’s late, too. Tomorrow, I think it might rain.

If it does, we can walk in the forest and listen

to the sound of the rain soaking into the ground.


William Collen is an independent researcher writing about the intersection of Christianity and aesthetic theory. His view on art and aesthetics have been published in ArtWayAd FontesAn Unexpected Journal, and on RUINS, his personal blog. His poetry can be found at Chiefly Lyrical. He lives with his family in Omaha, Nebraska.


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