God as Aldebaran, the Red Giant
I am seven again.
And there on the page is my first panic attack:
Someday, billions of years ahead—
Our sun’s anguished dying, engulfing
the whole solar system, illustrated in flames.
Closer to my little ending:
After halibut on the grill and Cherokee purple tomatoes
and goat cheese, after Negronis and wine,
after homemade caramel ice cream and sliced
ripe South Carolina freestone peaches,
our friend points toward the sliver of moon.
There is Jupiter hanging off the crescent,
and down the sky, above black walnut trees,
the far giant star in agony
is barely reddish, a decimal-point crystal
of hot ice, less than a ruddy pixel.
But it’s vast, he says, bigger than our entire heliosphere,
meaning bigger than the orbit of Jupiter,
a circumference that would swallow our sun—
and also Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter,
and all our attendant stone-cold moons.
Try to defy that we are holy in our doom.
There’s trauma underfoot right here
with every step, the biome crushed, centipedes
and piss ants, the jittery flicker of gnats.
Suicide in the jails, tasers on the streets, children in cages.
What’s a long-ago dead star’s suffering
to us, the blood red so far
we have to squint to fathom it?
Susan O’Dell Underwood directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University near Knoxville, Tennessee. Besides two chapbooks, she has published one full-length collection, The Book of Awe (Iris Press, 2018). Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared and are forthcoming in a variety of publications, including Ecotone, Alaska Quarterly Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Oxford American.
Image credit: a collage consisting of an optical flare representing the red giant, Aldebaran (purepng.com), multiracial arms thrust up (webstockreview.net) as in begging for help with blood splatter (i.pinimg.com) to symbolize the terrestrial turmoil
Editor’s Note: Recipe for Negroni, an Italian cocktail