Peripheries by Annie Gilliland

This is the far west land

of disappearing borders.

Where countries bleed into each other,

the wild and the cautious mix,

where vibrant day turns to shadowy night,

and stars rain up from the horizon.

Here, the Milky Way flows like the river

that has been diverted, dammed, and rerouted

through its ancient history.

Here, we bend our environments

to conform to our shape.

But the sky feels untouchable.

The galaxy winds its same course,

the dust lane twists where it always has,

and the lines that weave stories in the sky hold strong.

12,000 years ago,

perhaps someone looked up

and forgot about boundaries altogether.

In the haze of twilight,

the ground and air come alive.

Predatory eyes twinkle among creosote

and exoskeletons glow purple among crumbled limestone,

mimicking celestial lights millions of miles and years away.

We gasp.

The horizon line is dim and gone

and ancient mountains cradle stars,

like lighthouse beacons on each sky island.

Long-nosed bats swoop to the end of their range,

blurring mapped limits away in the night.

Ground and sky are discernibly obscure.

We pause and think we might carry a light, a crutch.

We wonder what’s out there along the scrubby desert skyline.

But under our vast, galactic neighborhood,

without our imagined borderlines

we are briefly lost.

And we abruptly know

that it is okay,

for one moment,

to understand nothing.

Annie Gilliland has been teaching the public about night skies in various national parks for a few years now. As a graduate of the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Master’s program, she focused her poetry, prose, and essay writing on issues surrounding light pollution and conservation. Her writing has appeared in Until the Stars Burn Out, Saltfront, Yellowstone: Color it Wild, and in the Astronomers Without Borders astropoetry blog.