“Asteroids as Big as Skyscrapers” by Chera Hammons

Chera Hammons


We should come up with better ways
to define the size of an asteroid.
One headline likens Asteroid 2008 OS7
to a football stadium, as if we are in the habit
of measuring distance in sports arenas set end-to-end;
as if they are all the same,
the small-town stadium like the professional one
in its acreage, parking lots, and concessions,
and how many disappointments it can hold.
Asteroid 2007 EG is said to be the size
of sixty-four Canada geese,
with no indication of whether those geese,
for purposes of this illustration, fly in formation,
or rest beside each other in the grass,
or are stacked like sandbags in a heap.
The asteroid in the news today
is a city-killer the size of two love boats, they say,
but we must guess at what a love boat is,
whether it means the cruise ship in an old sitcom,
or a swan boat on a white-flowered pond,
or any yacht or rowboat or ferry or aircraft carrier
capable of carrying someone affectionate.
Some readers must assume two boats to move in tandem,
others side-by-side, through water either
calm or white-capped, or blooming with blue light.
Minor planets mix too many metaphors.
This is an imperfect knowledge, impossible to manage.
Today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
To observe one, you must give up the other.
There is an asteroid hanging above us
right now, annihilation the size of two love boats,
and the Wordle answer today happens to be TALON,
which took me five turns to guess.
I almost arrived there too late. A talon
clings to a bare branch in the winter wind.
A talon slices through slippery muscle to the bone.
Everywhere, we find signs that show we must pass
through a world full of people
who had believed there would be no surviving the loss
of someone they loved, until they did it;
people who have Googled the stages of grief
to find out how much more there is to get through,
only to find there are either five or seven stages,
depending on who you ask, and they are not in linear order,
and the best guide to the process of mourning
is the map of a forest with no paths,
only landmarks you must pass again and again
during a single journey.
And always above us, somewhere in the darkness,
the silent weight of metal, mineral, and undrinkable water,
a strange stone frozen and airless and alone,
hurtles fathomless past the green warm places where life is.
Like holiness, the only way to measure it, a guess
based on how brightly it appears to us,
translated into what little we already know—
We, who can’t even define the boundaries of our own grief,
though it carries the heft of a high school football stadium
once the crowds have gone, the empty parking lot,
the unnoticed dandelions growing in cracked cement.
Though it is the height of the Empire State Building,
and sways the way it sways.
Though it is the size of sixty-four Canada geese,
flying in a V toward a far horizon.
Though it is the size of two lifeboats
which pass each other in the night,
and the dark water moves
like a mystery between them.

from Poets Respond
February 20, 2024


Chera Hammons: “There was a weird confluence of events this week. The Super Bowl. Another high profile mass shooting. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were the same day. I saw several different stories about asteroids (one saying that water had been found, but the water molecules are chemically bonded to the minerals in the asteroid; one about how an asteroid might hit earth on Valentine’s Day 2046; and one about an asteroid ‘the size of two love boats’ passing by). Every time there’s a story about an asteroid nearing earth on my news feed, I take a screenshot because the measurements used to define them are so bizarre. I have quite a collection now, but my favorite is the asteroid said to be the size of 64 Canada geese.” (web)

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