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Poems


Rittenhouse's Orrery

"It will not vary a Degree from the Truth
in less than Six Thousand Years,
if the present Order of Nature subsists."

-- Early description of the orrery

The easy part: Gravity,
senseless subtle brute,
tugged bits of interstellar dust
into the usual shapes --
a fiery sun, first,
then a few planets and moons,
which sorted themselves
into orbits, each balanced
against the rest. Later,
accidents of chemistry
produced storms, seas,
cells, songbirds, sons,
kings, colonies, and,
outside of Philadelphia,
a clockmaker, Rittenhouse,
determined to recreate
the whole six-planet system
in gears and rods --
an orrery. Its brass sun
commands a blue heaven
fixed with golden stars,
before which orbit
tiny planets and moons,
each elliptical path
precisely charted
in its ecliptic plane,
each moon in motion
around its moving master --
Saturn alone, floating
within its ring,
dependents arrayed
above transmissions and cogs,
is a wonder surpassing
the pavilions and palaces
of all Europe's princes.
Stilled now, fragile
behind glass doors
in the university library,
his planets await
a mind as keen as his
to clean the brass machinery,
to tighten the rods
and oil the gears,
to wind the spring
of pure delight.

January, 2006


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