Marilyn Nelson











The Dimensions of the Milky Way

  Discovered by Harlow Shapley, 1918


Behind the men's dorm
at dusk on a late May evening,
Carver lowers the paper
and watches the light change.
He tries to see earth
across a distance
of twenty-five thousand light-years,
from the center of the Milky Way:
a grain of pollen, a spore
of galactic dust.
He looks around:
that shagbark, those swallows,
the fireflies, that blasted mosquito:
this beautiful world.
A hundred billion stars
in a roughly spherical flattened disc
with a radius of one hundred light-years.
Imagine that.
He catches a falling star.
Well, Lord, this infinitesimal speck
could fill the universe with praise.


© from Carver: A Life in Poems