Friday Poem

How to search for aliens

At midnight we’d light candles
in the tabernacle and begin
our yearly vigil for the dead.
Mostly I remember the kneeling,
how the vaulted ceiling pressed
the congregation silent until grief
weighted the air. Sometimes I slept
as the incense censer chimed smoke
into strange eddies; often I dreamed
of falling into a vast darkness only to wake
in the pew with tears stepping down my face
as though death had come and gone in the space
of an hour. Even then I knew the spirit shunned
this drama, the artificial quiet shrouding the voice
of god in ritual while outside the planet spun
unperturbed. Four point five billion years
since genesis and the sky still hovers
like a veil between us and space,
wanting to be lifted before the unintelligible
babble dismantles the tower we have
half-built. At Arecibo, signals fall
from the dark like angels dropping messages;
there are miracles in the data waiting for discovery,
contact unrealized despite centuries of squinting
into the heavens. When our vigil ended we would walk
home in the cold, my mother mourning the past
while I tracked the stars that winked between
the street lights, listening for serendipity
in between footsteps. She held my hand so tightly,
perhaps she knew that prayer was too simple:
not enough prime numbers hidden in the signal,
no small man standing on our solar system,
peering out into the universe.

by Christine Klocek-Lim, recipient of the 2009
Ellen La Forge Poetry Prize (previously the Grolier Prize)
—forthcoming in the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial
Poetry Foundation Annual.

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