Chinese astronomers Hi and Ho were put to death for failing to foretell
the solar eclipse of 2169 B.C. I myself was taken by surprise in 1979.
A sifting of light pulled me away
from my baby's morning nap and onto the edge of the porch. A line in
the west, the leading edge of shadow dividing light and darkness, swept
toward me, then over me. I was in darkness. Silent stars
stepped forward. The hubbub of birds fell silent for a moment of minutes.
Then from the west, again, fast-forward dawn, a broom held by hands in
a heaven, shaking birds from branches and brushing out those stars.
This morning fifteen years later, my children ready for the school
bus tell me an almost total eclipse is coming. (Oh, Hi and Ho, had you
not children in school?) They go. I turn on the television, expecting
news to break into programming, but it does not. So, I go outside.
While I wait, I weed. A patch of sky west of the sun turns from white to
cornflower. For an hour
morning is a 40 watt bulb. Birds hop slower, but keep peeping. For
some seconds the air chills. Then it warms. A rooster somewhere crows,
"Only this? Only this?"
I was ready to glimpse hidden stars, to feel light and darkness clearly
defined. I was prepared today to be startled. I rise from something less
than I'd planned on. Nevertheless, I'm not killed
for being surprised.