Astronomy Lesson

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
The two boys lean out on the railing   
of the front porch, looking up.
Behind them they can hear their mother   
in one room watching “Name That Tune,”   
their father in another watching   
a Walter Cronkite Special, the TVs   
turned up high and higher till they   
each can’t hear the other’s show.   
The older boy is saying that no matter   
how many stars you counted there were   
always more stars beyond them   
and beyond the stars black space   
going on forever in all directions,   
so that even if you flew up
millions and millions of years   
you’d be no closer to the end   
of it than they were now
here on the porch on Tuesday night   
in the middle of summer.
The younger boy can think somehow   
only of his mother’s closet,   
how he likes to crawl in back   
behind the heavy drapery
of shirts, nightgowns and dresses,   
into the sheer black where
no matter how close he holds   
his hand up to his face
there’s no hand ever, no
face to hold it to.

A woman from another street
is calling to her stray cat or dog,   
clapping and whistling it in,
and farther away deep in the city   
sirens now and again
veer in and out of hearing.

The boys edge closer, shoulder   
to shoulder now, sad Ptolemies,
the older looking up, the younger
as he thinks back straight ahead
into the black leaves of the maple
where the street lights flicker
like another watery skein of stars.
“Name That Tune” and Walter Cronkite
struggle like rough water
to rise above each other.
And the woman now comes walking
in a nightgown down the middle
of the street, clapping and
whistling, while the older boy
goes on about what light years
are, and solar winds, black holes,
and how the sun is cooling
and what will happen to
them all when it is cold.

Alan Shapiro, “Astronomy Lesson” from Happy Hour (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987). Copyright © 1987 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Selected Poems 1974-1996 (The University of Chicago Press, 2000)

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Poet Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Youth, Living, Relationships, Nature

 Alan R. Shapiro

Biography

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014); Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize; . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Youth, Living, Relationships, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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