August 21

2017 Total Solar Eclipse


On the occasion of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse across the United States, I offer a poem recalling my 1979 school day experience viewing a previous eclipse.





I stared at it, despite the warnings.

While classmates angled a sheet of cardboard,

hole punched in its center, forcing on the wall

a shadow that ringed itself then slowly shifted,

I stared at the eclipse directly.


And asked myself — Could this

have made ancient cave dwellers dance?

Did chieftains or court astrologers gain power

from frightened rabble, begging for explanations?

Midday darkness can unsettle,

but it’s clearly part of a cycle:

the sun, covered over, dims slowly,

goes out, then gains in strength again.

No crops could die in those scant seconds,

no empires could be hastened to their ruin.

There’s hardly time to stamp your feet and wail.


But then, I knew it was coming.

My friend from California said an earthquake

of a minute seems forever:  fear, like dullness,

stretches out time.  Advance knowledge,

though, eclipses an eclipse.  You wonder

what the fuss is all about.


Which is why I looked.

And it was better than the pictures,

better than the filtered shadow on the wall.

But you’ll never know,

even though, I’m telling you,

nothing happened — not even the spots

I’d get from staring at a light bulb.

Too dim for damage.  I decided

those warnings must be just to add a thrill,

a flirt with threats of blindness

when apocalypse is hardly in the cards.


That night I heard the moon would cover

the brightest rays, but those most harmful

would filter through or off the edges,

invisible.  Long term effects

could be delayed as much as a month.

I waited in agony for blurring,

expected every morning

to wake up blind.