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Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner is the author of seven books of poems: Tourist in Hell (U. of Chicago, fall, 2010), The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon, 2004), Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon 1998), Otherwise (U. of Chicago, 1993), Sarah's Choice (U. of Chicago, 1990), Shekhinah (U. of Chicago, 1985), maya (U. of Massachusetts, 1979), a translation of Euripides' Medea (U. of Pennsylvania, 1998) as well as a book on visionary imagination, Gathering the Winds (Johns Hopkins, 1975). She has taught at many colleges and universities, most recently at the University of Chicago, Smith College, and Northwestern University. She currently teaches in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Emanations, Off-Planet

—after a video of light playing on blinds,"Singing Rings of Saturn" by C.A.Conrad, and Blake's "Emanations"
The rings of Saturn singing,
    today the air a hint less cold;  
         we live on Enceladus...you, who judge
by what you know, you call it that, and think it
    moon; to us, it's (phonetically, a long
         sigh, broken by the sound of bells)—  
our word for home. Being as we are,
    memory's orphaned daughters, we live on other's myths,  
         and on the distant drama of the storms
that swirl on Saturn's surface, far below
    its turning rings, and, in the pulsing music
       as they spin, we hear again the looms on which
our dreams were strung, the shuttle's clack and treadle's hum.
    Our atmosphere's acoustic, and carries sound
         in its scintillant crystal air; our towering geysers
and ice volcanoes feed the particles of ice and dust
    that ring our vaporous neighboring star,  
         and, turning, sing to us.
We are, perhaps, extenuations of that which once
    was there, resembling what you call fox-fire,
         a kind of bio-luminescence, the glow of rot,
phosphoric light that generates no heat, is just what emanates
    from what is mostly gone. That's why
         we flicker, brightening and fading,
a haze that shifts, mood-ridden; at times we pale
    until we are a bluish-gray, a smear,
         a sway of smoke all but invisible against the ice.    
What brightens us and feeds our luminescence
    is the constant song,
         the singing of the circling rings  
that never ends and never is the same.
    For then we are relieved of mind,    
         its mocking, flittering mirrors
in which our own reflection cuts us to the quick,
    though it cannot touch the ice of Enceladus.
         But we have said too much, for now we feel
your alien eyes, we feel you watching us...  

And so are gone: withdrawn into the fissures,
  where misery keeps to itself, and won't,
      as long as the watchers are waiting there,
            be coaxed out again.


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