Midweek Science/Poetry Break: Diane Ackerman, “Night Letter to Loren Eiseley”

Jaguar of Sweet Laughter, by Diane AckermanCorrect: no Midweek Music Break this week. I’ve been working on this year’s Quirky Eclectic Christmas Mix, which will show up here on Saturday, so am a little burnt out on music at the moment. :)


I’ve been re-reading Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain, from 1979, which deals mostly with the edges which lie between science and, well, everything else. In one chapter, he discusses science fiction: what he likes and what he hates about it. And I came across this curious claim: “…in the verse of Diane Ackerman can be glimpsed the prospect of a mature astronomical poetry, fully conversant with standard science-fiction themes.”

Eh? I thought. Diane Ackerman writes science-fiction poetry?!? This turns out to be the case, all right — or at least, she has done so. I refer you to her collection called Jaguar of Sweet Laughter, for example, which includes (among much else) excerpt from a complete cycle, perhaps a collection of its own, called The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral.

In Jaguar of Sweet Laughter, I also came across the poem below. Not strictly speaking a “science-fiction poem,” nevertheless it does feature an imagined correspondence with one of the great workers at those edges between science and “everything else.”

Night Letter to Loren Eiseley

All night an illness barred me
from that loam-rich sleep
we mammals are born to,
we who lie flat for eight hours
in darkness, then rise, barely rested,
for half a sun, watch color TV
because ancestors had eyes cued
to ripening fruit, laze on platforms
in the sun, and still marvel
at hand-me-down miracles like birth.

Near dawn, I took your Immense Journey
from the shelf, and found myself soon
with lantern-jawed humans, trapped
in the Lost Horizon of our past,
with deft orb-weavers, oracular fish,
and marsh birds that stilt
from pond to pond. Then, nodding
in ricochet delight, I feasted
on the spellbinding fruit you grew—
that way of beholding
which is a form of prayer,
and, on the still white winter morning,
knew I would carry its seeds
to an unworldly place.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

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