Last Totality

Before you could see a difference in the sun,
The color of the sky began to change.
"It's starting," I said.  My wife and friends
Looked at the sun, then looked at me.
"I don't see anything," they told me then.
But bit by bit the blue grows darker,
Plain as plain to these eyes of mine,
Stabbed by sun-glare all my life.
"Look away from the sky, and wait; then back."
Then at last they start to see
The tiny steps the light is taking.

"Look!" they say; we're a dozen here,
In this nameless lookout beside the road.
Gathered by time and a break in the clouds,
We all see the bite in the eastern sun.
It seems wrong to shout, and so we don't:
Library-quiet, we speak our thoughts
In whispers in the church of Sol.

Motion at my feet, and I look down.
Bands of light and darkness run
Across the grass, the cars, the people.
Horizon to horizon they flickering leap.
East to west, or west to east?
Second to second I cannot tell;
First it seems one, then the other.
The motion doesn't change, and yet
I cannot tell which way it's going.

"Look at the ground!  What are those?"
They tear their eyes from the wounded sun,
See nothing at first and are annoyed.
But moment by moment the bands grow sharper,
Leaping like trout over everything solid.
None of us have heard of these.

And then the sky begins to wheel:
Great spokes of light and dark revealed,
Centered on the sun and moon,
That touch the ground and race across it,
And I realize I'm seeing now
The light that makes the leaping shadows.
Projected on the ground, they were visible
Before they could be seen in flight.

"Wow," I say.  Everyone looks up,
But they don't see them, and never do.
This final spectacle will be denied them
No matter how stark it is to me.

Still there's plenty for all to see:
The voracious moon has devoured half.
Though it seems hours that we have watched,
It's minutes only from start to end.

Totality is a black sun in a black sky,
Accompanied by the instant stars,
And circled in a ring of fire.
Beads of light on the coal-black rim
Are signals out of lunar valleys.
The bands of light in the sky and ground
Have vanished: even the birds are still.

Then the second act begins,
Just as heart-rending as the first,
But different as the sunset and dawn.
The stars don't vanish, but fade away,
And the brightening sky has more purple to it.
The quickening sky resumes its spin,
Projected bands sweep out again.
In the same direction?  I still can't tell.

Surely the second part's as long,
But it seems to pass in seconds only.
Are we jaded already, or merely tired?
A symphony of horns and strings,
The eclipse has wrung our souls like rags:
We have no drop of awe left in us.

Birds chirping in the second dawn
Stir our reluctant feet to move.
Smiles exchanged with tired strangers
Acknowledge the wonder we have shared.
Back on the road, the car is quiet,
As we seek to keep the mood intact:
In North America, in the Twentieth Century,
This was the last total eclipse.

—San Diego
pridie Id. Mai. 2754
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