Jim Fisher

after Hans Bethe, 1906-2005

We start in the center of the star where jammed
nuclei fuse and emit gamma rays streaming outward

from the core: photons blasted through gases
then transformed when reabsorbed, quanta captured

by electrons which jump rungs with input, spin
around in higher orbits, boastful with their photon:

the moment can't last and electrons must fall,
when they do they forfeit the photon, such furious

beauty surrendered in disappointment, we feel
the waves move through the elements of the sphere,

through magnesium, helium, sodium, nitrogen,
carbon, neon, and ionized calcium—the absorptions

leaving lines on discontinuous spectra marking
the distinguishing electronic structures of the atoms,  

lines of calcium with bold double bars in the violet,
lines of sodium suppressing red-range emission,

the frustration, vindication a movement of
convection, selves swirled and spun through the levels,

the electrons always turning, two to an orbital,
each with magnetic moment and an opposite spin,

each atom with unique quantized levels electrons
cascade down as photons are multiplied and scattered,

they flow through us, we vibrate as they pass,
these dual-natured tremors of emergent luminescence,

waves lengthening as they work themselves
outward from inside, each absorption, reemission

a diffusion of the fusion as it radiates away,
leaves in animating light from the surface of the star.





This poem's one of my favorites, but I'm in the minority. Seems it's hard to follow the fusion of the two-line stanzas without a stake in the vocabulary of chemistry. So I'm offering the poem in an alternate form: the winter stellanelle, or Swedish window star.

[click for full size]