Repairing the Hubble Telescope


Floating in God's brain
with nothing but a screwdriver
and a box wrench. With my back to the universe,
I saw the gyroscope I'd come to fix
was the size of a red and gold one I got for Christmas
as a child in Phoenix, the one that made me forget
all my other toys forever. It still amazes me
how something at such a skew can spin so hard
it makes the rest of the world
seem out of whack. That's just how it felt
when the air lock opened and I was out there,
as if all my life I'd been listening to Mozart
on a homemade ham radio, music
measured in megahertz, and now I'd been hurled
into the orchestra pit.

Alexie Leonov was the first, not to walk
in space but to bask in it, cook in it–simmering
in those suits, sweat up to our ankles–
Alexie blurted to his partner on the other side
of the solar panel: Pavel, I love you,
I don't think I can go back
, and in fact
they overshot the target and almost skidded off
earth's atmosphere entirely and spun out
into interstellar ice, but in the end they simply fell in the snow
of the taiga and waited for helicopters
to find them among the fir trees, stumbling from gravity
like bears drunk on a canyon of berries.

I thought for a moment of Alexie, and of Ed White,
the first American to open
eternity's hatch, and then it was time to get to work.
I could just make out Sumatra and the Malaysian Peninsula,
the Indian Ocean, before I went under the hood.
Even now people ask me about it
but won't believe me. It wasn't the pure, shimmerless
colors, the anarchic perspective, that changed my life–
it was that moment when I felt exactly
as if I were a kid again, on my driveway in Costa Mesa.,
sliding on my back under the chassis.
I was home. The enormous gold foil
rectangles looked like the speakers in my den
as they silently absorbed the sun's white noise.

For once I knew what to do, I lost myself,
and now the whole world can see the Cat's Eye,
a dying star, red and gold, spinning,
and the galaxy Lagoon, full of what the astronomers
call wisps and twisters, star embryos
half a light-year long.

Sitting in my den watching CNN,
squeezing a whole lime in my Diet Coke,
I am homesick
for the only place I ever belonged,
alone with the Hourglass Nebula
and the stars they call blue stragglers,
children wandering on a hillside
among crisscrossing deer trails and mist, almost happy it's so late
the search party must be giving up
for the night, the men finishing off the last slug of warmish coffee
from the thermos on the truck's dash,
thinking they know their limits.


Robert Thomas, Dragging the Lake, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006.