Habitable Nebula

The long night reminds me that so much of what it means
      to be a person shines through obscurity, like odd condiments
bought on impulse, tested once, then pushed to the back
     of the refrigerator in their smartly labeled bottles and jars.

It’s like a birth of stars, or nights an actor plays their part
     so flawlessly, the audience gives no thought to gastroenteritis
or its various causes (viruses, bacteria, bacterial toxins,
     parasites and so forth) till hours after the last act is dust.

But setting aside all that small stuff, there’s still the entirety
     of the past, invisible or visible only in traces, as among the blur
that sets in during speeches, or when speeding to the launch
     past signage that tries to communicate but by habit we ignore.

I still can’t say what life is for, but it can’t be to pretend
     that every part of it is knowable, or that what appears to be
to the naked eye or in the middle ground or documented on paper
     approximates a person any better than a daisy does our sun.

When at a loss for what I am, I know I must be feeling it
     deep in the layers, where a turbulence gives rise to clouds
so massive they collapse in a bliss of gravity, condensing into this
      music I can daisy into morning as it daisies me into morning.


Copyright © 2023 by Timothy Donnelly. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 25, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I wrote ‘Habitable Nebula’ late at night on my living room floor, as I do most of my poems. Having recently finished reading a memoir, I was feeling my way around the fact that the depths of one’s inner life can never be adequately translated to other people or even made fully known to oneself. But if, like poems, our attempts to access life’s rumored core fall inevitably short of their goal, they might nonetheless succeed in manifesting something true to the mystery of it, like the light shed from stars.”
—Timothy Donnelly