Island Stars

Sep 22, 2017

Today’s poem is "Island Stars" by Alison Hawthorne Deming. Alison lived in Portland for many years and is a long-time summer resident of Grand Manan Island. Her most recent books are the poetry collection Stairway to Heaven (Penguin 2016), the essay collection Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit (Milkweed 2014), and Death Valley: Painted Light, a collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom (George F. Thompson 2016). Alison is professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.

She writes: “The poem tells the story of its inspiration: after attending an island talent show that did a local version of "The Newlywed Game," which I imagined must have been humiliating for the poor contestants who agreed to expose their marital misunderstandings for the entertainment of their neighbors, I was shocked to find a bat caught in the summer cottage. This gave new meaning to the challenges inherent in domestic bliss. Figuring out how to get the bat outside meant trying to understand its motivations--and that turned into a beautiful encounter with living in darkness."

Island Stars 
by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Coming home from the island variety show
capped with a copycat Hollywood game,
emcee teasing—What is the one thing your wife
would like most to change about you?—husband
squirming for the answer he thinks she thinks
he’ll give, as if it’s a joke how hard
we have to try to love, how often families fail,

coming home under the island stars, their light
enhanced by northern isolation, shining so clear
and numerous they scatter toward both horizons,
hiding themselves in clusters we see as peaceful—
did I hesitate, the cottage door held open
as I held Orion’s gaze? You went off, an alarm,
seeing into the kitchen—an invader circling,

frenzied, flight pattern jagged with fright.
Coat over head, you yelled, I edged in to guide out
the trespasser, but it dove in combat, dodged and
circled again. What then, but to cut lights, prop open doors
and hope for its sonar to sense—what?—the breeze, night air,
the better light of stars. When it was gone—was it gone?—
the weight hung on, something so small and desperate

for its life in the place we feel most safe Outside
that creature must tremble as we do
knowing something wild and accidental
can interrupt our peace. Now the stars look
so sharp they pierce the night and the river of milk
runs out. That can scare me into praise—
the terrible beauty of things flying apart.

Poem copyright © 1994 Alison Hawthorne Deming.
Reprinted from Science and Other Poems,
Louisiana State University Press, 1994,
by permission of Alison Hawthorne Deming.