Invisible Star Maps

For my stepdaughter Kari Harvey (23 December 1982–10 May 2016)

We know that we have passed out of death into life.

—1 John 3:14

Wherever we go we leave a thumbprint of the soul.

Ghosts of words we never said fill the rooms we leave.

This is why we have to touch what the missing have touched.

In the morning we see how the orb weaver has mapped

the last light, and how the Gazania flower opens its colors

to morning.


          The heart maps these stories where the clocks

seem unsure of themselves.


                               Now the heron lifting suddenly

from the shore leaves the story I need to write. I believe

these things the way the tree believes in the dark world

of its roots, or how the brook remembers its origins upstream,

how we know where we are by the clang of a buoy through fog.


The heart maps invisible traces that are fog on my eyeglasses.


What we don’t see is, in the end, the shore we are headed for.


Medieval map makers drew what might happen at each turn

on their journey, or made perfect picture worlds that existed

only in myths, because they knew every place is a storehouse

of possibility, every place is a time that has yet to occur,

an unreadable history of the heart. In Syria the smudges

on aerial photographs are the mass graves of the missing.


The heart maps paths the survivors still take through abandoned


            What we don’t hear is, in the end, the distant rumor of dawn.


In the nineteenth century spectral photos returned the dead

to us. Now, just these old Polaroids, snapshots of some family

gathering. If only they could show me what lies beyond us.

Strabo (64 BC–AD 24) traced his spherical star maps

onto his earth map to bring us closer to heaven. Opicinus drew

his mystic world as graffiti on city walls, the Mediterranean

here as queens, saints, gryphons, and other mysteries to be explored.


The heart maps the empty sky between those constellations.


It’s true that all these facts are ways to avoid my own losses,

as if history erased the many histories it is made of.


What we don’t see is, in the end, what the stars are hiding.


We want to put ourselves into the maps our dead have followed.

We want to read the elusive messages the wind writes

with ocean spray. We want to see heaven pivot on its axis

with every memory that breaks the surface. Here the moon

drags the dawn behind it. Eternity hides in the lost meanings

of these words. There are losses so deep, loves so . . . I can’t say.


The heart maps itself with symbols so no one else can read it.


There are reflections on the water that are her own dreams.

There are moments when her shadows disguise themselves as first light.

Above us, the plane is already gone from where its engine sounds.


What we don’t hear is, in the end, the silence between heartbeats.


There are losses so deep. Now the sky is weighted down

With memories. Losses so deep. Even our shadows desert us.

I see, then, whatever we know we know by its absence—lives

that once travelled the old roads now barely perceptible

depressions through the woods, the invisible particles we take

on faith because of the paths they leave on a laboratory screen,

the odor of bear or deer we cross on a trail, the lives that continue

between flashes of last night’s fireflies.


                                                              What we don’t touch

touches us, which is why we turn back as if there were someone

there, which is why we turn back each time.


                                                                                And this morning,

above us, invisible stars the daylight hides begin to map for us,

secretly, new paths our hearts had seemed to despair of, —those

vapor trails that linger longer than they are supposed to, the wake

of the boat that echoes perhaps endlessly, shore to shore, —if only

we can believe in them without ever seeing where they are.


Richard Jackson has published fifteen books of poems and is the author or editor of multiple critical monographs, books in translation, and anthologies. His most recent books are Broken Horizons (Press 53, 2018) and Out of Place (Ashland Poetry Press, 2014); “Take Five,” a prose poetry project with four other poets, is forthcoming.