Janet Ruth

Navigating in the Dark

the moon

has closed her eye

for that one night

in twenty-eight


she is still there

but her eyelid

is the color of night sky

the only light—from distant stars


but the moon

left me a gift—

a constellation

of screech-owl eyes


five recent fledglings

swivel their heads

five pairs of round yellow stars

orbit above me in the latillas—


plenty of light

to navigate by


Instructions for Writing a Poem in Phosphorescent Ink

1.  With your flashlight, scan the ground for sharp stones or cholla spines, because you forgot to check before it got dark.

2. Lie flat on your back, since this position is better on your neck, which gets a crick in it if you sit on a chair and look up at the sky.

3. Open your eyes—look for meteors. Open your mind—accept words for poems—like an empty cup.

4. See how many constellations you can identify.  Collect a few promising astronomical terms that you’ll have to look up later—gibbous, occultation, parallax, retrograde, sidereal time, transit, waxing/waning, zenith. 

5. Drop them into the cup. They’ll gleam with a bit of phosphorescence, like the stardust we’re all made of.

6. Feel the one pebble you missed, which is poking into your left scapula.  Reach underneath and pull it out.  Be surprised at how smooth it is even though it felt pointy.

7. Let it rattle in the bottom of the cup.

8. Go back to looking up at ancient light.  Wonder how many of those stars no longer exist.  What did they have to say before they went nova?  Had they wished upon another one before they did?

9. Open your ears to any sounds around you.  Hold the cup just right to catch a few of the screech-owl’s soft hoots and his moon-shadow as he flies silently over your prone form, looking for something smaller.

10. Collect a few words to describe the slightly cooler air here, near the ground, that has raised the tiny hairs along your arms and at the back of your neck.

11. Find words for the pungent aroma of chocolate flowers brewing on the patio.  Try for the subtle scent of pale datura blooms but realize that your sense of smell is not as fine as that of the hawk moth, who is making love to the silvery trumpets.

12. Be sure to keep looking up—lifting your cup.

13. Look!  There it is—just for a moment—a falling star.  A bit of space rock, incinerating as it hits our atmosphere—that which allows us to breathe.  Like Edna’s candle burning—it casts a lovely light—and then it’s extinguished—a cinder.

14. You realize that you’ve been holding your breath, clutching your cup of glitter and shadow and whispers . . .

15. And so you breathe—in and out—and that’s your poem.

Janet Ruth is a NM ornithologist. Her writing focuses on connections to the natural world. She has recent poems in Oddball Magazine, Tulip Tree Review, The Ocotillo Review, Sin Fronteras, Spiral Orb, Ekphrastic Review, and anthologies including Where Flowers Bloom (The Red Penguin Collection, pending 2022), and Moving Images: poetry inspired by film (Before Your Quiet Eyes Publication, 2021). Her first book, Feathered Dreams: celebrating birds in poems, stories & images (Mercury HeartLink, 2018) was a Finalist for the 2018 NM/AZ Book Awards.

About the Artist