D. Nurkse, “Venus”

With thanks to Benjamin Roman

Venus (from Poetry)
D. Nurkse

Death is coming
and you must build a starship
to take you to Venus.

Make it from a catsup bottle,
a flashlight coil,
a penny, the cat’s bell,
Mom’s charm bracelet.

They say that planet is torment,
whipped by circular wind,
choked in vitriol clouds.

But no. When you get there
it is a light in the sky
and I am with you.

If you find nothing else,
borrow the pleated wing
of a winter moth,
lighter than dust.

Comment:

About the afterlife, much has been said. Jesus describes the justice of it as a graceful equality. The laborers who come later are given the same as those who worked before. Socrates says in the Apology he will either be completely unconscious or asking lots of questions of people he hasn’t met. In the Phaedo, he speaks of a realm where red is really red – a realm of predicates, not objects.  A realm where everything is separated, where nothing strictly speaking is, where analysis – a breaking-down – reigns. The Weakerthans in “Night Windows” sing how our fragmented memories of the dead weave in and out of our existence, appearing and disappearing like ghosts.

In this poem, we build a starship from nostalgia of our childhood, a carefree imagination enabled by being unconditionally loved. We’re going to Venus to satisfy that deepest desire, that eros not separable from familial love but not only that. We do love and have been loved.

Having felt called, the potential for disaster – “torment” – exists. The goal could very easily be an illusion. Even if we’re right about the voice calling us, it’s just an image, part of a past that cannot be recovered. Venus is uninhabitable.

The image has more to say. We will get there, as we are there (“it is a light in the sky”). Our memories of those we love may be garbled, but we cannot sit with them trying to imagine them perfectly. There are those we actually loved, and they lived, leaving behind memories and much more. They did call to us when they were here, often.

This is the world they made. To find them, we unfold it. Venus is uninhabitable; there is no perfect reconciliation with the dead. There is only the dust, which flies, understood by us as almost animate.