Messages from Kepler
by Roger Mitchell


there was no such thing.
Nowhere was everywhere,
and they were the same thing.

As with the beginning, which was not,
so too with the ending.

Eons of microscopic palpitation.
A little dust, a little wind.
A very little water, heat.

A kind of molting.
As a child sloughs its mother
and is later sloughed by another.

Endless morphing toward the possible.
The possible leaning toward,
becoming, but not knowing what.

A stone teaching itself to fly.
The wing beats in the middle of it,
though the stone doesn’t know it.

Something else does the knowing.
something else does the being.

(“My Name is Kepler”)

NASA sent the Kepler Telescope into space in 2009 to look into one large area near Saturn in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra to search for planets that might be candidates for extraterrestrial exploration. It has exceeded its three-year capability and continues to send back digitized pictures.

My name is Kepler, Kep for short.
This is my first report, at best
a jotting. I’m up here staring hard
at a hundred thousand stars.
All day, all night. Three years, at least.
I get my bearing from the sun,
hoping to find a plump planet,
a ripe peach not too far, or close, 
to its own sun, cool radiance
capable of stirring the quick
in a biochemical smear,
an extraterrestrial pulse,
slippage of something liquid
at the surface, a wink of water
that in a few thousand eons
might evolve into living forms
not unlike (and here I say, you,
since I’m just a piece of hardware),
on its otherwise barren sphere.
Though hardly barren to other
structures, objects intangible
and inert, stray rays and odd blobs
of light invisible down there,
squeaks wrought by weightlessness brought down
by gravity, vacuum’s sharp suck.
What will become of all this junk?
Junk of thinking, junk of wanting.
I am the tip, at the moment,
of your most precious, distanced, pure 
intention, but still addled. 
What am I doing out so far,
sending messages I can’t read
back to people who can’t see?
What I do see, I can’t believe, 
an incoherence, a rupture,
stars, meteors plunging into
one another, into nothing.
Everything turning in its sleep,
as the end of sleep approaches.
Though even nothing has a catch
to it, something that snags something
else, more invisible, lesser
in the long string of apparencies
reaching across vacancies
even the angels abandoned
(Thank God for abstractions!) to us.
Hoping you don’t mind if I put
myself into your familial
wing of the Linnaean arrangement,
I remain your Devoted Scope.

(“You Sent Me Out Here”)

You sent me out here, and I went.
Every six seconds I send
a picture back. Galactic dust, 
astral refuse, warp of star light.
You asked me to exhaust myself.
I will, since there will come a time
when the atmosphere won’t support
the deepest dream you have of me,
my million pixels, mineral
capacitors, my pure clear eye.
Before I go, though, before I
pass through whatever veil it is
that lies between us, back from which
no picture can be sent, nor knowledge
reach, let me show you what I’ve seen.
Whole galaxies, greater than ours,
invisible except to me.
More even than my eye can count, 
and beyond that, more. And more besides.
You cannot come here, but some day
something not unlike you, some need,
the echo of a life lived once,
even among you, might attach
itself to the visible dust
of its own body, might stand up,
might make a way to be that we,
since by then I, too, will be a wash
of scattered molecules, once made.
By now you know that everything
in your growing understanding 
of the word ’everything‘ will go,
completely, disappear, back
into a state of having never
been. Love, then, what you have and are.
You are its object and its glory.
I’ll keep sending, but at some point
the signal has to fail. I won’t 
be back, or, hoping I’ll learn how,
forget how hard you strived, how long.
Or how the sunlight draped itself
across your mountains like a scrim
through which the multiverse emerged.

(“A Letter From Dubuque”)

A letter from Dubuque invites
speculation on a subject
I thought settled long ago.
The distance from Dubuque being
what it is for me, and ever
extending, things I say today
in what I think of as now,
are gone before they reach Dubuque,
as starlight is once it’s left
the cinder that held it or ash
it left behind. But no, I’ve seen
nothing unlike or different,
nothing, given the time and space,
Dubuque would think unthinkable.
Vastness, of course, more infinite
than fear, but eons easier
to bear. The brightness fluctuates
as much here as there, as anywhere.
The sense, though, of there being no
end to anywhere unsettles
even the idea on which
everything rests, that it is there,
boundary or bottom or end 
(Sorry, but I have to use words),
or definition simple air
can give to longing and desire.
The illusion of stillness the earth
gives me, and permanence, both,
though I can’t ever unravel
that knowledge, go back to the door
it led me through, and call the flake
of fire on the far side of it a seed
of anything other than hope,
that’s what keeps me up at night,
all night, all the long, unbroken, 
stilled, bright night this is out here.
But, to the person from Dubuque
who asks if I’ve caught sight of God:
Not yet, unless an endlessness
to what there seems to be will serve.

(“Static Jitter”)

Trying to go human despite
obstacles, among them,
wanting to be as far away
as I know no way to say.
As a fly is maybe, or touch.
Having trouble hearing. Messages
incomplete. Running out
of whatever it is I live on.
Is it worth the refueling, 
the constant corrections of flight 
vectors? Space unforgiving. 
I hear noises, find I want them.
Noises. Please send more signal.
Cannot locate purpose algorithm.
Advise please how keep eye on what
you call ball. I engage feel
app. Who is Commander Scott?
What just happened? Am I OK?
Very quiet suddenly. Warm.
I feel warm. Is this what you call
whatever it is you call it?
Ship exercising shift function.
All seems well. I continue. Send peace.
Or is it love? What is it, love?
I stop thinking. Content observing
what has so little measurement
and limited shape with deep depths 
between of matterless matter.

(“Some Knowledges are Hard to Keep”)

         Cassini-Huygens took
a picture of the earth from under
Saturn’s belly, a tiny dot,
one of whose creatures it took me
some moments to recall I am
the clamped together product of.
I heard the word eternity
uttered the other night. At least
I think it was night. Wonder what
was meant, who the utterer was.

With no beginning and no end,
and with gradual but total
re-formation of all that is,
seen and unseen, always, all the time.

A condition to be met
wholly and amazed, placed along
the strobe of ordinary day,
its return and disappearance,
its crows pecking in the tall grass,
its all day cloud, its weightlessness.


Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at M.I.T., on hearing that astronomers had seen the beginning of the Big Bang, “ripples in the fabric of space-time.”   — New York Times, March 18, 2014.

Out on the margins of the universe 
knowledge keeps stumbling under its load.
It has a pickaxe, a cosmic dust analyser,
and all the concentration of a ferret.
The screens crash, then flash back into life.
A dot of light begins to wink,
and through the thinnest slice of time
we see ripples in the umbilicus.
But not the what, not what it was—
evocative wave, auroral display,
contraction and explosion—
what we stammer toward the naming of,
the what that, for reasons no one questions,
we have to know, and though it’s reckless
to say so, someday will.

But not today, 
not the 21st of March, 2014.

Not here at the McDonald’s in Plattsburgh,
Lake Champlain out the window tabled in snow,
the first winter in years
it froze from shore to shore.
Not with all these kids
eating Happy Meals across the aisle
from a poet hiding out
in the smack plastic booth and voluble cheer,
the sun pushing hard against the winter,
the winter giving in,
not quite like a good sport,
but letting go,
knowing it doesn’t stand a chance
against these kids, the sun,
against these happy meals.

Someday we’ll know what we want to know,
what it was that licked time’s fur,
what made space want such company
as us, always hungry, never still,
dreamers dreaming of what stays true.


One day the galaxies will go
back into their own shadow,

disappear into space and time,
taking both with them,

the stars and all return to be
the “singularity”

they once were.

Who knows what it was, or will be?
A wide and shoreless sea,

sound that nothing makes,
dream-driven mathematics,

winds that blow against themselves,
black light, mouthless vessels.

Whatever’s other.

Roger Mitchell is the author of 12 books of poetry, most recently Reason’s Dream (2018) and The One Good Bite in the Saw-Grass Plant (2010), poems written in The Everglades while on an AIRIE Fellowship. New work can be found in Tar River Poetry, Blueline, Poetry East and other journals. His work also appears in The Zoo of the New: Poems to Read Now, Ed. Don Patterson and Nick Laird, published in the Penguin Modern Classics Series. He is Poetry Editor of the ezine, Hamilton Stone Review and lives in Jay, New York, with his wife, the fiction writer, Dorian Gossy.

Acknowledgments: “In the Beginning” originally appeared in Hotel Amerika and “Last Three Minutes” is from Mitchell’s collection of poems, Half/Mask.”

Other Roger Mitchell Mudlarks: Rhythm of Delirium, Poster No. 116 (2014), and The Hatchet of the Minute, Poster No. 143 (2017).

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