Edward Emerson Barnard and Sylvester Graham
Edward Emerson Barnard
Born before the war, I was still a boy
when Union soldiers strutted along
the Streets of Nashville with their
glinting guns, and at nine, poverty drove me
to the corner of Fourth and Union where
on long sunny days I stood patiently,
holding steady the lens of a device
that captured the sun, in order that
my employer’s photographs could
be enlarged. But it was at night
my true work was done, gazing
towards the heavens. I will never forget
the day a book fell into my hand that
told me how the Greeks and Arabs
had already been about this same business,
and so I learned the names of things.
My first telescope was made from a
broken spyglass found in the street.
I did not search for reward but what luck
that the Warner Prize then considered
each newly discovered comet to be worth
200.00! One comet bought my house lot,
and just as I grew anxious, another appeared
to help pay off my loan.
Eventually, I drew up my courage, enquiring
if there might be a place for me at Vanderbilt.
When Mr. Newcomb gently said ‘no,’
citing my lack of education in math,
I nodded, then quietly drew myself behind
one of the state capitol columns and wept.
Eventually, they invited me to live on a
small house on campus, understanding
somehow that love is its own expertise.
I took classes, and continued the work I had
always done, charting the skies, mapping
the Milky Way, in cold seasons wearing
animals on my arms: a reindeer hide
coat that more than once led me to surmise
how the ancestors of these stitched skins
must have tracked miles and miles over
the hills, December evenings, nostril fumes
rising above their antlers and then up
into the unsurpassable territory.
“Let me,” said I, “Speak til I can speak no
more.” To urge the weak to better thoughts.
Once I only spoke in the pulpit, admonishing,
but then I became convinced I must go
to halls and meeting places—that part of the fold
which would never come in on its own accord.
Old Deacon Slaw gave me trouble for it at first, angered
that I would even dare compare our systems to that
of the motley Orangutan! Yet said I, the Designer
who made us varied and diverse is not above copying
certain methodologies, and what harm befalls our
unique place in creation if our alimentary needs
slightly compare to those of other creatures?
I would preach out of the gospels and epistles, yet
would return to my one theme at any spare hour.
For yes, though our Lord taught that foodstuffs
coming into a man’s mouth do not make him unclean,
but, rather, the envy, malice, and lust inside him,
could not these two things, traced at some lengths,
be somewhat connected? So I traveled and I preached
against the tea, coffee, and tobacco, the cow milk of
cows fed on distillery mash. And though we ought to cry
for daily bread, I taught that bread must more than suffice,
the additives left out, along with the alum and chlorine—
its deceptive pleasing whiteness left for the moral inducing
timber of whole wheat. The milk should run also clear
of the chalk and plaster of Paris lies that stain it
a most unnatural hue. And I did not stop preaching,
nay even in Boston when the city bakers threatened
a riot, warning young men against the all too present
temptation to twiddle themselves, the excesses that
lead to coughs, loss of appetite, and failure of the liver
and kidneys; I also spoke to married couples of
the lassitude that comes of constant overindulging.
One day near the end of my life, when I was traveling
I got out of my carriage and spotted a brilliant blue
butterfly resting on the side of a dry goods store,
and drawn by the glorious sheen, I stepped closer,
only to find another shape resting directly underneath
the one, and I wondered in secret, tho not for the first time—
if our minds are to always run to far higher things, why
even the smallest specks have been fashioned against us.