The astronaut told us
he didn’t look out the window
for eight and a half minutes
as the rocket launched him
beyond our atmosphere.
Terrifying things happened—
ground vanished, boosters
exploded, day became
night—and he did not look.
He was focusing,
he said, on his job.

He was up there
a long time. He learned
to sleep suspended. He learned
how the sunrise looks
when you watch it every morning
from the soft dark mouth
of space. Many things,
he told us, were different
than he’d once expected.
There’s no space ice cream,
he said. That’s a big hoax.
His vision blurred.
His body became a study:
blood, appetite, cognitive function.

He took many pictures.
All of them were beautiful.
None of them showed
what it was like to float.

When the astronaut returned
to earth, more tests were run.
Scientists discovered that
seven percent of his genes
had changed in space.
He left the planet
as himself. He came back
as himself, rearranged.

Copyright © 2020 by Catherine Pierce. From Danger Days (Saturnalia, 2020). Used with the permission of the poet.