03 December 2009

Moons of Jupiter, So Close...

It was G-maw that made me want to be an astronaut. Not a "Going to the moon" type astronaut, mind you, I mean a full on balls-to-the-wall (or balls-to-the-bulkhead) strapped to God's own bottle rocket, out past the orbit of the Earth around the Sun kind of astronaut. I wanted to fly to Jupiter and poke it in the Great Red Spot. All because G-maw had a telescope...

I have a telescope myself. A new one, it was a gift. I asked for it because I used to have one when I was a younger Gumbo, but that one didn't survive my jaunt to college and subsequent moves from the nest to apartments to a house. My old one was a refractor, my new one is a reflector. Appropriate, because mainly that what it does and makes me do: reflect.

Which I do. A lot. It was about two weeks ago that I came home from work under a clear sky the color of bruises and wine, to notice a big, bright dot hanging out on the southerly side. I watched it as I sidled up the sidewalk to my back door. It didn't blink and neither did I. I recalled that it must be Jupiter, and that unlocked a flood of memories. I stood on the patio, hand on the doorknob, for a good ten minutes watching that golden speck. All the while images cascaded in sheets across my mind: National Geographic, G-maw and me, freezing nights outside all mixed up with blinking lights, dim lit rooms at night and the faint beep of machines keeping my hearts alive while I frantically scribbled in a notebook.

The Voyager probes flew past Jupiter in 1979, and the pictures they sent back were mental manna to an astronomy geek like me. G-maw had a subscription to National Geographic, which had some awesome spreads of Jupiter and a few of the moons. I remember seeing the Great Red Spot (and feeling awe) and volcanoes on Io (and being freaked out: sulfur dioxide "lava"!) and thinking Man, it would be awesome to go there. I had this fantasy of flying in a space capsule, me the Heroic Traveler, and planting a flag on Io under the glare of the Red Spot. I suppose the far-away alienness of the place seemed perfect for the shy loner that I was: better with things than with people. The cold, the dark and the distance didn't bother me. It only made me want to go there even more, to see awesome beauty and wondrous things never before touched by man, maybe only by the hands of God.

I shook my head and went inside. The telescope is just inside the door. I kept glancing at as I ate dinner, and decided to take it outside and try to see the moons of Jupiter. It was while trying to focus on the little bright dot, that the mystery crept in again. I looked up to see with my eyes and not the lens, and found myself on the frozen face of Io, staring into the glare of the angry red spot while tears streamed down my face. Epithets and insults rang deafeningly inside suit helmet as I violently waved my arms and screamed that this wasn't fair and no, you can't do this, no, no, no you can't bring me this far and show me so much great beauty and tell me its mineminemine only to take it away in a violent storm of desperate nights. NONONO it can't be not after all the blood and the tears and the needles and machines, constantly pricked in the heels and tubes shoved down their throats with diapers the size of a cocktail napkin and you even let me touch them, caress their fragile skin crinkling under the glare of the jaundice lamp you let me say daddy is here, my babies and he thinks you are the most beautiful things in the Universe...

...and the bubble popped, I came back to earth with a lump in my throat and images of tiny moons in my hands, fading with a burn as the cold black well of Night drained them of their lives. I had endured a long, hard trek to a place of indescribable pain and exquisite beauty. Seeing my son and daughter there in the NICU, I planted my flag on frozen ground and watched them fade into howling wilderness of an indifferent Universe. 

Watching the little golden light slowly descend to the horizon, I could not help but think that I had indeed been to the moons of Jupiter. It was a shock and a gift, to travel so far expecting rock and ice, and instead finding flesh and blood...and my heart.


  1. Your hand was on the doorknob for ten minutes? Awwww, bless. And you touched the Great Red Spot with your bare hands? Incredible stuff.

    Actually, I can relate, I used to be fascinated by the great planets and when I see them I always feel awe.

  2. Such raw and beautiful writing...

    ...and because I am a freak, I wrote about looking at the sky today too.

  3. ahhh National Geographic when I can get my hands on it, like porn,, oops I mean Playboy, to a twelve year old boy...

  4. Another beautiful post. And, once again, you remind me how truly fortunate I am.

  5. We used to go to Ann Arbor to hear lectures by Jim Loudon, who worked at JPL. He had some V-ger time lapse shots of three little white storms getting ripped apart and sucked into the big red one. As he played it, the auditorium was silent with wonder, until one smart ass did a Mr. Bill imitation, "Oh, nooooooo!" Hilarious. and memorable.

  6. Ground control to major Tom
    Ground control to major Tom
    Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
    (Ten) Ground control (Nine) to major Tom (Eight)
    (Seven, six) Commencing countdown (Five), engines on (Four)
    (Three, two) Check ignition (One) and may God's (Blastoff) love be with you

    Yeah, I know it was about hopes and dreams and their inaccessibility and loss.

  7. i was an astro-geophysics major in college...i could stay up all night and name all the constellations and Messier groupings...and loved the geology part, the rocks, the minerals, the composition of hte universe....THEN they had to throw the physics part at me...thats when i said "meh, I think i will major in theatre...." many many fond memories lying on my back staring up at the heavens....thanks for this lovely tribute

  8. Amazing and awe-inspiring. Blessings

  9. Just last weekend I was pointing her out to my boys as we left the in-laws after dark. "See that one? No, the one that's not twinkling..."

  10. Fascinating post Irish. The stars and space are something which I do have a strong interest in. Google sky is a great little invention.
    And yes...I do love my sci-fi to!

  11. There are tears streaming down my face.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...