Lesser Light: Maria Mitchell by Elisabeth Watson

Lesser Light: Maria Mitchell

Like any distant lover Dr Mitchell perfected her love in pensive absence

seated at a daylit table in an upstairs room (springtime is outside the open window and flows through the window, too)

descended from the high copper dome that covers her and her telescope like a house, a bridal chamber

she works out her desire (and who hasn’t?) leaning so sharply over scattered papers that she sometimes breaks the pencil lead

When she stirs there is always a hush of crinoline. But mostly there are numbers—reeling out, husking against the paper

She writes brightness. She describes the miles exactly. How long How fast She further unspools her aching wonder. To think she thought she knew it completely.

A whole afternoon can pass from her like this: the sun lighting her equations (and equally the poplar, the gate, the softening earth)

But always in love, Dr. Mitchell’s mind is on the night. And on another, more absent, stars than the single one shining here.