Imagine [that] the whole mass of the sun is crushed down to a radius of a few kilometers. The gravity and space curvature near this compacted sun is enormous. If a light beam were sent out to hit and bounce off this object, it would never return... Since light cannot leave this object, it "appears" as a black hole in space... An observer who fell into the center of a black hole could see time slow down. But the falling observer can never communicate his strange experience to his friend outside.
Heinz R. Pagels, Perfect Symmetry
My brother and I planned to meet
at our secluded campsite up in Maine
beside an azure lake
swarming with rainbow trout. I'd hired a local plane
to fly me to our dock, but when
I saw how beaten up it was, how queerly
the old pilot squinted upwind
at the sun, I felt a fleeting shock of fear.
A reject of the Wright Brothers?
Or had he built it with his son—sort of
a modern Daedalus?
Its banged pontoons were dented right above
the water line which seemed to me
too high for the sad bird to lift its ass
for takeoff. But, by God,
it did! The pilot made, I thought, a needless pass
between two quarry walls,
then brushed the treetops just to show
where a tornado scythed
a highway through the woods, ten years ago,
which wound back on itself.
When we arrived, my waiting brother waved his hands
wildly from the dock's edge.
The pilot asked, "How's 'bout before we land
we do a couple lucky loops?"
The first loop made me squeeze
my thighs against my groin, and with the second,
wider loop, the engine wheezed,
shuddered and stopped. We slid into a nosedive,
spinning toward the evening sun
reflected in the lake. Oh, I was falling
through my mind's black hole, the one
curved space to float me home,
so slowly I had time to think that I
alone had nothing left to know
except the circle of the sun within the sky
inside the water, blue advancing
bluer into brighter blue—
although my unbelieving brother held his hands
over his face. And you,
Professor Pagels, would you not have seen,
reflected in my eyes,
the unresisted pull into the perfect heart
of orange light, the last surprise
of pure acceptance that can never pass
beyond itself? I guess
the gas ran back into the engine,
for we leveled out, and, yes,
terror returned the instant we touched down,
and my taut body knew
that I was safe there in my brother's arms.
Next morning my whole chest was bruised
where I had clutched myself, and one week later,
back in the old river town
by the abandoned mill, we learned my pilot's plane
had crashed in the dense mountain
flying home. "Don't know how Joel lasted
long's he did," his neighbor said.
We sat, a covenant of brothers by the fire,
And yet the orange-red,
the green-blue flames distracted me; I watched
the sizzling rainbow trout that night,
its smeared red stripe surrounded by black dots—
collapsed suns lost in their trapped light.
—Robert Pack, 1989
Excerpted from Fathering the Map: New and Selected Later Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1993). Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
Home page image: "Wegbereiter Ikarus," print, woodblock on paper, by Wilhelm Geissler, 1966. (Courtesy NASM)