Monologues Spoken in the Voice of a Space Traveler

Benjamin S. Grossberg

These poems come from an extended series of monologues spoken in the voice of a space traveler—a being that travels from star to star, observing phenomena, meditating on love, aging, and loss.  Sometimes, as in “The Space Traveler’s Birthday,” the poems root in an event from my life.  But more often, their occasions are wholly figurative, taking the imagery and language of space exploration and science fiction as a launching point.  The result is that composing them often felt like play—something I hadn’t experienced before.

The Space Traveler’s Birthday

Because our planet’s so far from its star,

birthdays come rarely and my species

finds other ways to mark our passage—

most associated with the body’s various

sproutings, the blemishes and growths

that indicate time getting on.  For my

First Forehead Crease I was given

a rocketship model kit, and promptly told

not to look so concerned about how many

pieces it contained.  Soon I set up a table

in the basement—an unhinged door

laid horizontal on two sawhorses—

and started to pluck pieces one by one

from their plastic trees.  By the time I was

ready to paint it silver, other passages

had come and gone: Pitch Deepenings,

Wax Cleanings, assorted Bone Nubs

and their Removal From My Face.  It was

a wholly different me, nearly, hunching

in that basement, applying a silver patina

to a model of what even then looked like

my future.  I spray-painted in a gentle

back-and-forth motion, from a foot away

created a chrome cloud, and saw

as I advanced up the body, how the model

in that faded space turned to glistening. 

Just like now, I think, landed, polishing

the three fins on which this ship sits,

running a rag over its arched doorway,

balancing a rickety ladder against

its curved chrome skin and waxing

the nose cone till it shines like an obelisk.

And celebrating, too, if more quietly,

rites of diminishment: Hurt Back Day,

Unwanted Hair Day (a week-long event

since so many sites are involved), and

Name Forgetting Day, slightly delayed

in companionless space.  Party hat on,

mulling in my Captain’s Chair—new stars,

new starts rushing toward me, Stained

Teeth Day, too, quickly approaching—

I become pensive, like a human standing

with arms out, palms up, making his body

a scale for opposing points of view—

on the one hand, a rustless realization;

on the other, corporeal dust.


The Space Traveler’s Duende

Sometimes I pull the ship right up

to the redline of a black hole, firing

the engines at ninety-percent thrust

just to hold steady.  Around me

lesser ships shriek, throw their arms

in the air, and get sucked backwards—

into the vortex, a black annihilation.

Their captains can be seen panicky

and weeping through their view screens.

I sip tea, pinky out, and leaf

through catalogues.  Dust streams in

from all over the galaxy, accelerating

past in glistening rills.  I know

the stakes are real when I feel myself

lurch backwards.  I drop the cup, which

cracks with a single clink.  A sidelong

nervous smile, then I hurl myself

over the console, all my weight falling

on the go lever.  Now the engines kick

into high whine, and my irises get

so tight the pupils threaten to sweat

out of my face, each a drop of black ink. 

I start jettisoning things: appliances, old

furniture I’d hoped to refinish.  Once

a small wing of the ship: a few buttons

and corridors detached, fell back

into the void.  Then the ship starts

to crawl forward, and then a little

faster, and then faster.  Soon, I am out. 

Sometimes the black hole is another

space traveler.  Usually, it’s just

the memory of one.

Benjamin S. Grossberg
Benjamin S. Grossberg

Benjamin S. Grossberg is an associate professor of English at The University of Hartford, where he teaches creative writing.  His books are Sweet Core Orchard (University of Tampa, 2009), winner of the 2008 Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award, and Underwater Lengths in a Single Breath (Ashland Poetry Press, 2007).  A chapbook, The Auctioneer Bangs his Gavel, was published by Kent State in 2006.  His poems recently appeared in New England Review, North American Review, and the 2011 edition of the Best American Poetry anthology.