—by which it doesn't mean in the bedroom or dining room,
but the universe. The answer is a demi-hopeful
"possibly not," although whatever other life exists
Out There in the pettipoint billions of planet possibilities might be
no more than a gelid smear that quivers in light
and quiets in the darkness, or a philosophically minded gas.
We've come far, from the need to see our Terran selves
as singular—as "God's elect," and central in His cosmos—
to a people simply hungry for companionship and, naturally, curious
about our neighbors ... even if by neighbors I mean
theoretical beings twenty light-years off in space. That's
the distance of Gliese 581d and Gliese 581e: is that where life is,
liquid and almost-familiar? Something swimming with electrical vim
and means of reproduction in an alien
but not-so-alien H20? The planet with atmosphere
trailing behind it cometlike, a bridal gown with the train on fire....
The planet with acetylene lakes....
The planet entirely surfaced-over by ever-melting rock....
Is there life on Fomalhaut 6?—is that where life is,
viral, spiral, flippering over in salty waves, not unlike
the elephant seal on page 76 of this same issue,
who stares at the National Geographic camera
with his own biocular sense of the world, his own
mammalian alien-but-not-so-alien consciousness.... Page 95
begins a series of striking full-page portraits
of the Hadza, a Tasmanian hunter-gatherer tribe
whose Earth both is and isn't mine.... "A hunting knife
is strapped to his hip, in a sheath of dik-dik hide....
He can converse with a honeyguide bird
(they whistle back and forth) and so is led directly
to a teeming beehive.... He sits cross-legged at his fire
and eats the baboon's cheeks, the eyeballs,
the neck meat, the forehead skin.... The men
tell campfire stories, the women sing ... " and this
is the point at which my wife enters the poem
from a day of teaching and then a quickie stop at Town East Mall,
her body the same percentage of water as mine
and her invisible halo of oxygen-carbon-in-and-out-accordion-squeeze
a thriving aura of colleagues and students
and stoplights and Twitters and crazyass dreams
I understand and I don't understand, and at night
(the man is typing, the woman is singing in her bath)
I want companionship so much, if it's there, if I can find it
orbiting me in bed, if I can see it ...
I think I see it ... and then it slips away for a moment;
now it's here again; and now it dims and ducks and slips away ....
But then, "planet" means "wanderer."