Fred Chappell


Tonight the telescope allows us to see
The Moonswarm drifting through the black midnight.
Soft creatures, neither giant moths
Nor fairies, they wheel their multitudinous light
Above the sleeping landscape. They sound and then withdraw
A singing as of many mouths
Like the mosquito's sostenuto saw
Multiplied a thousand times.
They constitute a soaring choir
Of peony-petal voices, a cottony fire
Made up of separate singing flames.

We cannot find if they are sentient,
These flocks that often obscure
The stars with their snowflake shine.
It seems that they appear
Only when the moon is absent
From the sprinkled skies,
And this has led some scholars to believe,
Or maybe only to surmise,
That our full moon is but the hive
Of the Moonswarm, where they nestle
As upon a great hydrangea blossom
The way a sleepy child will nuzzle
Closer within the mother's bosom.

If not this, then what are they?
We only know–we say
We only think we know–
That their migrations regulate
The ebb and subtle flow
Of dreams that tincture the complots of the rational State
With a phospor glow.

What do they feed on? How reproduce?
The single theory that carries any weight
They feed on nothing and they do not mate.
So then, they cannot exist.
Demonstrably they still do,
Like half the objects in this world that halfway are:
On one side of their being, stone;
On the other, mist:
Mostly sheer fantasy and yet mostly true,
Like the mathematic particles that comprise a star.

Tonight the telescope discloses
These pale ephemerae,
Palpable impalpable animals,
As partly substantial as you and I.

Fred Chappell, Spring Garden: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana
State University Press, 1995.