Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Illustrated Man

From Manhood Lessons of My Youth

It was a magazine book about astronomy
For earnest amateurs — a black sky
Constellation map you could cut out,
Glue to a round cardboard 
And affix an oblate window with a sprocket pin
And turn to any sky at any time of year, 
At any time of night,
Or even in the day you'd see
What wasn't visible because the sun's
Blanketing sheet of day-sky blots out
All rivals but the moon and clouds. 
It was in there how to build a telescope,
How to grind the mirror out of a round 
Pyrex blank, against another round
Green plate-glass beveled blank
Up through the carborundum numbers
Ending at the finest emory dust;
Then on to pouring a pitch lap
And polishing with jeweler's rouge
Till it became a spherical pond of clear glass
That still needed deepening with rouge
To bend into a parabolic form —
And this was called figuring. 
That's all I thought about, because
A grown man was illustrated,
Sleeves rolled up, polishing and figuring
His telescope to be. 
Eventually I did the same as he,
Though only in 8th and 9th grades. 
I didn't realize how much the illustrated man
Was guiding me to manhood and quiet work,
Like my pal Joey's dad two houses away 
Who never spoke, but sometimes
Coming home from work would shoot
A basketball in his driveway
In a grace of repetition at the hoop. 
Men's work, I found, could be
But not manhood. Not just yet. 
Manhood was the giant whose role I played. 
My mirror in its frosty curvature
Celebrated graduation as a hazy past;
A new school, a new beginning —
The ladder up to manhood extended,
And then, when I attained first light
The summer after freshman year
My wonder at the moon's bombarded texture,
And the rings of Saturn, or the nebula of Orion hunted down,
Or M 11 and the myriad Milky Way 
Stunned me into childhood for life. 
The illustrated man had grown younger
Until we met — the amateurs of science,
Forever in the transport of those stars. 

John Sevcik