Eight Things I Know About Galileo

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


Eight Things I Know About Galileo

  1. It must have been odd for Galileo
    to find glasses, his invention,
    on the face of his judge,
    the eyes behind them magnified, two planets
    of blue fury, the list of charges
    less blurry now: “Seeing things, then saying so, etc.”
    Me, I would have half-smiled at the irony,
    been gutted and hung up for ravens,
  2. but Galileo played it straight and stayed alive.
    Me, I would have been wondering,
    How much have we turned
    since this started?
    How far have we traveled ’round the sun
    while he reads and reads?
    and they’d have killed me,
    or cut off my ears for not listening,
    or left me freezing
    with nothing to burn but my book.
    Not Galileo. He lived, Creator of Telescopes.
    He lived and went on knowing.
    That the past would be passed by the future.
    That house arrest couldn’t prison his orbiting mind.
  3. And it couldn’t end memory.
    Like the first time the moon leapt closer—
    seeing the edges of shadows in its craters,
    the unreachable drawn almost near.
    Too much to write it that night,
    and also so suddenly thirsty,
    walking to the fountain in the plaza
    and climbing in to drink.
    Or the nun who’d been kind to him,
    sharing a first taste of cinnamon . . .
    all the way from some camel-traveled spice road . . .
    why? And where
    did she get that powder? Why?
    And how such detonating fragrance?
  4. The priest was sick, so she was his teacher.
    He was learning the Ave Maria.
    Memorize, memorize, memorize, again,
    while the water outside turned a water wheel.
  5. To be a sculptor made better sense
    in a world that didn’t want science,
    in a world that liked things fixed
    and held them fixed.
    Except wars.
    The occasional volcano.
    The smaller eruptions of flame and smoke
    when the need arose to cure a heretic.
  6. His neighbor, in fact, was an artist’s model,
    and he saw her features everywhere—
    her hips, her hair, her torso—
    but never her laugh. No way to carve that.
    Her smile was too much like evening.
    Her eyes the opposite of empty.
    No stone, no tools, no skills
    could ever get them right.
    And so he chose astronomy,
    picked darkness over daylight, took up the shapes
    and movements of bodies in space,
    and almost died for his trouble.
  7. Sometimes, rather than sleeping, his neighbor would come
    and they’d talk through the window.
    She’d tell him what angel she was posing as now,
    then together they’d name another star.
  8. That’s the part I think about most,
    more than the Jupiter mission,
    that probe sent up by NASA, bearing his name:
    The Galileo.
    I think of his neighbor,
    her voice in the darkness,
    how she must have hung back from the moonlight—
    so many spies,
    so little else to talk about,
    the whole world frozen in its poses.
    But not her,
    and of course not Galileo,
    the two of them knowing we’re all sailors,
    understanding that the sky is an ocean.
    And beautiful.
    Just open your eyes.




Rob CarneyRob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header image — an artist’s rendering of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft flying past Jupiter’s moon Io — courtesy Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, and NASA.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.