Two Poems by Phillip Sterling


Save for the rain
and the awkward heat
of summer’s poor memory

(of a barefoot girl
in a blush-red sundress

along the strategic beach
of a country at war)
this morning

would offer no more
than a dew-tinged tire swing
and a boy

whose hair has yet to learn
the shape and weight
of complicity

asleep in the still
near pitch of his father’s
ancient tent


Star Party at the Dunes Climb

                        —Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Because the night air is warmer than I,
the concerned father, thought it would be
and because the gray-green camo pattern
of Graham’s hooded sweatshirt serves no purpose
in the dark, he pulls it off and blankets

the sand where his head will rest as we gaze
into a sky that in the odd way of
optics and ambient light lightens as
night grows darker, providing us with specks
of various size and intensities

to identify as best we have learned:
Saturn, Mars, Antares, the Milky Way,
cellular satellites, commercial planes . . .
Some dance stationary, some flash or track
like supernatural insects from, say,

North to South—or from our left to our right—
the orientation little more than
a perception we can agree on, like
the other ways of seeing that we must
navigate as we look up from the dune—

The Big Dipper, The Little, The North Star—
nothing really “astronomical” in
some senses of that word, nothing extra
ordinary.  Our view is more earthly,
brought to earth by the others around us,

the occasional flash of voice and light
from figures we can’t otherwise see, their
words foreign or incomplete, impulsive—
vacationers perhaps unaccustomed
to sounds of night not their own and so must

find comfort in the self’s recognition.
It is unreal: the kind of close sky
circumnavigators delighted in,
early astronomers lost sleep under,
and dreamy youth picture romantically;

it is a night of imagination
for those capable of it, and so Graham
claims vast asterisms of his own: The Cat,
The Warrior, The Dragon’s Sky Temple,
The Soup Pan . . .

                                    So who’s to say—
among those who have gathered on the shore
of a geological anomaly,
carved by glaciers and mounded in the form
of legend—that a boy’s best friend cannot

be a bear of one kind or another,
soft sand to rest his head on, a figure
of stars, or the futile growl of a man
who can do no more than wait in darkness
as his son swims the great night lake alone.  

Phillip Sterling’s most recent books are And Then Snow (poetry, Main Street Rag 2017) and, as editor, Isle Royale from the AIR: Poems, Stories, and Songs from 25 Years of Artists-in-Residence (Caffeinated Press 2017).