Field Notes: Watching the Crew of Atlantis Renovating the Hubble Telescope

What comforts me most is imagining
the calm and regular draw and blow of their breathing;
that they are floating, for a while,

in exile and surviving
because, after weeks of drifting, tethered
to a machine that pulled in
the room’s ambient air, compressed it and vented
off its nitrogen with such a quiet,
relentless suck and surge, my mother
had crossed into the homeland
no one is equipped to travel through. Tethered

securely, and laden with tools
and equipment, the astronauts bury their arms,
elbow-deep, into the silver torso
of the telescope. Beneath them, across the Earth, night’s
precise curve approaching and nothing
around them but the constant
wash of their own breathing. What I remember most

about my mother’s last breath was the way her eyes
opened slightly—slim buttonholes
in the body’s fabric—and my father rising
out of his chair and leaning over
the bed’s chrome railing to get as close
to her as he could, to rest his forehead against hers
and whisper hello, Eileen; and I found myself

thinking about that white and half-wild pony
in the pasture next door; the way, each morning,
it was a solid pale patience
behind a single strand of fence wire as it waited
for my father to trail through the damp
nap of the lawn with his small offering;
the way it would lower its head, then,
to press against him, with such restraint,
the long, heavy treasure of its skull.
The thick plate of the forehead. Each nostril’s
soft cuff. But it was over

                already and that machine went on breathing
without her until I rocked its small red switch
into silence. There was the fixed curve
of my father’s spine. There was the still weight
of his head against hers. Our first night on earth
without her. Wind in the hawthorn and the great
carnival wheel of stars. The astronauts

are repairing the gyros; they are fitting
the spectrograph and the wide-field cameras
that will allow us to gaze right onto
the cosmic frontier. And the undertaker unzipped the dark

bloom of his body bag. Later, the froth
of the first birds, and the lights of the fleet roped
three deep along the quay fraying
in a dawn that arrived like wood smoke and,
for a while, my father and I not knowing how
to be with each other. With their gentle

and deliberate gestures the two astronauts
appear almost tender, like lovers.
The visors of their helmets are golden
blisters of reflected light. It is impossible to gauge
the ferocity of thought inside them.

Copyright Jude Nutter. First published online: Strokestown Poetry, Ireland, 2013