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The Sentinels

The Very Large Array **

With woven steel hands

Cupped around clear cadenced tones,
Our sentinels of the infinite
Herald the skeins of our skies,
Repeating one announcement,
Sans ornament and instantaneous,
To be etched on eternity’s orbit
In tattoos of silence.

Like torches tossed down
Into unexplored caverns
Our call dwindles and fades
Till the darkness dissolves it:

“We have arrived
At the limits of Earth.
We are here. We are here.
We stand on the edge of Forever.
We are here. We are here.
Are we alone here?
Are we here alone?
All alone here
On the shore of the sky?”

In numbers and bits
The signal soars up,
Climbing up Jacob’s ladder
Out of the pit of gravity
To float like some ancient insect
Trapped within the amber spine of light:

“We have arrived
At the limits of Earth.
We are here. We are here.
We are here on the edge of Forever.
We are here. We are here.
Are we alone here?
Are we here alone?
All alone here
One voice in the silence
On the shore of the sky?”

The disconcerting occurrence

Encountered at the terminus
Of all the mind’s parabolas
Is the thought that Nothing
Is all that occurs, that endures;

That Pinwheels of luminous plasma,
Glowing reefs of nebula’s matter,
Spatter the crests of the darkness
And descend like lamenting specters
Caught in the eddies of shoreless seas.

Their lights, creeping up along
The curve of the continuum, gleam
No more than the two-franc candles
Cupped in crippled, translucent palms
In the grotto of Our Lady at Lourdes.

And thus they too only serve
To dapple briefly  that dark edge
Of  shoreless ocean that consumes
What little light they lend,
Until like some pitch-drenched Pharaoh,

Are damped down into oblivion
By their own command to wait
Sealed in stonelight for a distant dawn.
All these thoughts and messages
Noted for a nanosecond, memorized

In some splinter of a second,
In tombs of luminous instruments,
Relayed, incorporated, and sent out:
A telegram with no fixed address
Woven out of frozen starlight,

And then to the darkness delivered.

Fantasy fears spun in the circles of flickering campfires.

Mythologies winnowed out of unusual stones, or bone, or bits of bark.
Cosmologies concocted from rats’ skulls, corn, and Titanium atoms.
Theologies tortured from the blind, wrung from hints in high cumulus.
All the perceived and imagined stockades raised against Zero:
The face of hoarfrost that blooms in our mirror, the Last God,
He who is the Pure Noun for which there is no adjective,
An orb of vacuum which sees itself as Cosmos, a tendril of unseen smoke,
A word which can never be spoken, the footprints of extinguished stars,
The visage mathematics cannot freeze.

Shored against such a Shibboleth all

Our philosophies and ornaments evaporate.
All our most comforting music and meters dissolve.
The clapping of frostbitten hands in Antarctic tents continues.
Above us the rictus of universal harmonies lingers.
The new landscape appears: desolate, arid, airless, uninhabitable.
The tendrils of the desert of the senses invade its frontiers,
Guided by hands of ice that caress the belly of the stratosphere,
As far above the chill, ionic winds erase the footprints pressed
Into the dust of the moon’s untenanted tranquillity.

The waterless waves on that sea without ships

Go outward, roll onward in search of horizons.
The faces in stone keep their futile appointments
With wind and with water, which also have schedules,
That return them to silence in a melding of stars
Here where the tree’s roots drink from the stream,
Here on the banks of tomorrow as our mind’s searching message,
Laden with numbers, with dates, and with data,
Rises up and flies out past the sun to the birth of the stars.

**The Very Large Array

The observatory consists of 27 independent antennas, each of which has a dish diameter of 25 meters (82 feet) and weighs 209 metric tons (230 Short tons).[2] The antennas are arrayed along the three arms of a Y-shape (each of which measures 21km/13 miles long). Using the rail tracks that follow each of these arms — and that, at one point, intersect with U.S. Route 60 at a level crossing — and a specially designed lifting locomotive, the antennas can be physically relocated to a number of prepared positions, allowing aperture synthesis interferometry with a maximum baseline of 36 km (22 miles): in essence, the array acts as a single antenna with that diameter. The smallest angular resolution that can be reached is about 0.05 arcseconds at a wavelength of 7 mm…. In 2011, a decade long upgrade project had resulted in the VLA expanding its technical capacities by factors of as much as 8,000.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • AesopFan February 19, 2019, 4:49 PM

    Stars and dancing dishes.

  • Auntie Analogue January 27, 2021, 8:03 PM

    Imagine my astonishment
    while driving cross-continent,
    as I came upon and drove past and through the Very Large Array,
    and all I could think was: I saw, I marvelled at, curiosity today.

  • Casey Klahn January 27, 2021, 10:59 PM

    There were 2 of those SOBs in the central desert in WA, but much, much larger. I’d guess they were 80 plus meters across; maybe larger. I thought they were for communications with our space program missions.

    But WTF do I know?

  • jwm January 28, 2021, 7:31 AM

    This poem is magnificent.
    “Trapped within the amber spine of light”.
    Incredible imagery.
    And for contrast:
    “No more than the two-franc candles
    Cupped in crippled, translucent palms
    In the grotto of Our Lady at Lourdes.”
    If “Climb Out on Easter Morning” lifted us above the world, this, the second stage takes us all the way.
    Great beginning to this day.