Self-Portrait as Laser Inferometer Space Antenna (LISA) with language from lisa.nasa.gov
In space, LISA can avoid the noise of Earth and access distant regions of the spectrum, listening for gravitational waves with every
instrument in her three-bodied self. She tends to remember the nitty-gritty details of each of those bodies—from
which bread they like best to the last location of the most beloved lovey. She’ll marshal the three spacecraft separated by millions
of miles, which fly in the Earth’s wake as it orbits the Sun. They’ll all get to the right place at the right time,
as long as she provides the right mix of fuel (fruit snacks, apples, light beer, salsa) and rest. She can conjure up waffles
when the bread’s gone moldy. This equilateral triangle of spacecraft has three “arms” that extend to detect
ripples of violence from eons ago. With her extremely long arms, LISA can hold herself still. The digital thread
connecting them pulses with data, coding a family out of three integers. She requires the precision of picometers,
can note a shift in space-time less than the diameter of a helium nucleus over a million miles away. Just ask her
what that muscle twitch in the starboard face of one spacecraft means. She’s got an ear adapted to hear the roar from
two stars merging as they pass too close to a black hole, maybe even the whisper of quantum fluctuations in the early universe.
LISA’s in a customized package optimized for spaceflight. Her lasers must operate for generations
in the harsh environment of space, the acidic dark of near-vacuum. She’ll push past the stiffness in her joints,
chilled in the disinterested deep-freeze. She will ride the gravitational waves, measure the level of imperfection
as the delicate gold instruments in the safe cavity of her interior free-fall. With her help, we’ll be able to detect ancient distortions in the stretchy fabric of space-time from disasters we won’t ever witness.
This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles, that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. —John Glenn If the prairie is thermosphere, fireflies are frost sloughing off a metal capsule that streaked from Florida into orbit, heated then chilled then heated in sunrise and -set sped up. The snowflakes luminesce. They star-shower. They fail to seek a mate, bound to the speed of falling, orbital mechanics. In another life I hiked through them in dusk, beetles tessellating the fields, extinct stars brighter in the lack of atmosphere. I mooned over a flirt light years away. Ugh, I carried a torch, for god’s sake. I longed for something simpler, the plasma fireball, re-entry.
-- Lisa Ampleman is the author of a chapbook and three full-length books of poetry, including Mom in Space (forthcoming 2024) and Romances (2020), both with LSU Press. Her poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in journals such as 32 Poems, Colorado Review, Ecotone, Image, and Southern Review. She is the managing editor of The Cincinnati Review and poetry series editor at Acre Books.