Horsehead Nebula Speaks
Williamina Paton Fleming, astronomer, born Dundee, 1857, died Boston, USA, 1911; received numerous international honours, including the Guadalupe Almendaro medal from the Astronomical Society of Mexico for her discovery of new stars; her name was eliminated from Harvard’s list of astronomical discoveries, therefore denying her credit for discovering Horsehead Nebula.
There I am, bucking my head below Orion’s belt,
free rein in that constellation’s fiery dust,
riding the stellar waves for millennia, unnoticed, till
a woman with eyes like burning stars takes one look,
has me harnessed, measured, catalogued, and tamed.
I’m proud to be groomed with such exquisite care
by one who can do it all – a maid, she was,
at the professor’s kitchen sink, until he saw
her quiet gift for seeing light with a precision
that far outstripped his Harvard team of men;
and then, the men come in. I’m claimed
as their discovery, and named: ‘Grim Reaper,’
‘Black Knight of the chessboard,’ they say,
failing to notice I’m a mare.
They make me want to leap
from this photographic plate,
leave it miraculously blank,
and take her with me, my lady of the stars
who found me first – we’d race
the heavens together, gallop across light years,
stream through Zeta’s glittering rays, bareback,
all along the Hunter’s belt, from Mintaka to Alnitak.
From QUINES: Poems in tribute to women of Scotland (Luath, 2018)