Originally published in Willow Springs 78
From the author
Notes on “Two Space Poems”
I’m grateful to Willow Springs for making a home for both of these poems because I think of them as sisters. They emerged when I was researching the Voyager flybys of Jupiter and noticed how many of the planet’s moons are named after mythological figures who Jupiter or Zeus raped – Leda, Europa, Callisto, and Io, for instance. If lunar bodies are established sites of feminine discourses through their moony-ness, pinning survivors’ names on them metaphorically extends their trauma beyond Ovid or Virgil, physically and psychically trapping them in their perpetrator’s orbit.
“Occultation” is named for an astrological event where one celestial body is temporarily obscured by another, and I love the word’s witchy implications. The Voyager probes were sent to explore the corners of the sky scientists couldn’t see from Earth, and I wanted to imagine Voyager 2’s lunar encounters as a chance for her to witness their retaliation, rebellion, and reclamation of their bodies, while also creating space for the anthropomorphized robot to grapple with her own agency (or lack thereof).
Initially, I didn’t want to engage Leda’s myth – it felt too loaded with a poetic history and rape apologists. Yet, I believe poems live in our bodies, and ignoring Leda’s felt like a betrayal to both hers and mine. Transforming the beginning of Yeats’s poem in “Voyager 2 Reconsiders the Mission” became an important reclamation for me of capital P poetry, mythology, and my history as a survivor. I walked around for weeks repeating the first sentences to myself, trying to understand what it would mean to untangle all this story, which became the braiding and unbraiding of the moon’s hair.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
I have a line from Stanley Kunitz’s “The Testing-Tree” tattooed on my upper arm in purple, scrolling ink. I was a freshman in college when I heard him read the poem in the biggest tent at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and when he came to the last stanza the air was so still you could feel your neighbor’s pulse. In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking. / It is necessary to go / through dark and deeper dark / and not to turn. / I am looking for the trail. That was the first time I knew poetry; it had switched, suddenly, from the language of thought to the language of survival. It was urgent.
Strangers grab my arm a lot. The tattoo is fading and difficult to read, and they try to pinch my arm fat to turn my body and make it legible. If I give in and recite the lines to them, they inevitably pathologize me. You must be a really sad person. You must be really depressed. I want to tell them Kunitz’s story of writing those lines the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and that they’ve become my compass and a way of composting heartbreak into action. That I’ve had to grow into them, and I think they’ve made me a better person because they’ve committed me to learning ways art interrupts the traumas inflicted on my body and that my body inflicts on others. Instead, I usually just shrug, and for the past year I’ve been thinking about covering it up. The lines wouldn’t be erased from my body, but hidden inside it. What a privilege.
About Jessica Rae Bergamino
Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of several chapbooks, most recently The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Colorado Review, The Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, and Salt Hill, and can be found online at The Offing, The Bellingham Review, and Kore Press’ Ka-Pow poetry series. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington and is currently a doctoral student in literature and creative writing at the University of Utah.