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When the Stars Explode (poem)

by Svetlana Sterlin 6 months ago in sad poetry
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"... In the morning, the clouds part in the shapes of butterflies. Silver-lined wings glow above us through the floodlights. Breaststroking, the stars sparkle among our ripples ..." Published in Voiceworks 125 Spectre.

When the Stars Explode

There’s a boy I swim with whose father just died of cancer,

a girl I coach whose mother passed the same way,

as well as the mother of my only remaining swim friend,

and an Olympian whose dad died too young.

Each death flip turns me back to the friend we lost as little girls.

Ten years gone. Same length of time a piece of twine

was caught around the lane ropes they finally replaced

after we left. Only took them ten years.

Ten years is the age I turned our first year there. Ten years

employed and Dad almost got a plaque for it. They cut the twine

just ten days before I realised your prank: pulling thread loose,

like memory, from my tog straps. I guess it was then

I discovered my superpower. I should stop calling it that.

Should stop feeling proud of the dream I had of you

before seeing you the next day. Of Бабушка, before

she died the next day. Of the friend I somehow knew

was gone. Maybe that’s when I realised

the stars would soon extinguish. But

it was also the first time I looked up and saw a new star

threaded into the twine of our galaxy,

swimming Backstroke outside, catching the glint

of my goggles. In the morning, the clouds part

in the shapes of butterflies. Silver-lined wings

glow above us through the floodlights. Breaststroking,

the stars sparkle among our ripples. With every breath

in Freestyle I catch the glint of your eye. Even

through our goggles I can feel the twine

between us like a spiderweb, like the ripples

that meet halfway. Which is how far I am

to the age my mother is now. But at 22

I’m just beginning to feel like a teenager. Isn’t it odd

how celebrities seem young at 45? And how you were

always younger than me, until today,

the first time I cried watching The Office,

the one where they make an ad. Reminded me

of how we used to be, the video we made

for Dad’s birthday. That same day

he was informed of his redundancy. But I don’t think

about that so much anymore. Maybe you were right to move

away, unworried. Or maybe you’ve been underwater too long.

I hear they’ve converted you to a Freestyler. Remember

when you were a Backstroker, when you pointed out

all the shapes you saw in the clouds? Remember

my dreams about upside-down skies?

Wonder if I haunt your dreamscapes

when you wander into mine. Maybe

our spiderweb thread has tangled somewhere between us

but it’s wound too tight to melt. Not even the sun

can blind me, sparkling upon the ripples

we paint in the pool, little black holes

at the centre of each concentric circle.

Maybe we’re the ones who stroke the sky blue.

Maybe we look up and see our own reflection.

Maybe the shapes of our lost ones beyond

the opening clouds, as they fill our pool with their own

blue. Pockmarks of our lost lights glittering upon the surface.

Thank you to Voiceworks for publishing this poem in issue #125 - 'Spectre'. Check out the virtual launch of Spectre, and my video/visual poem to accompany the spoken word version.

sad poetry

About the author

Svetlana Sterlin

Svetlana Sterlin is a prose, poetry, and screenwriter based in Brisbane, Australia. She's the founding editor of swim meet lit mag, a contributor at Our Culture Magazine, and a reader for Split Rock Review. https://linktr.ee/svetlanasterlin

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (1)

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  • Carol Townend2 months ago

    I really love the love and care that has gone into the language in this poem. It is a very beautiful and touching poem.

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