Image by Caroline Forbes

The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

Fleur Adcock


The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

Fleur Adcock


Poem introduction

This poem is one unique in my experience that came because of the title - in fact the title came to me first - 'The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers'. And that phrase just popped into my head from somewhere and then I tried to work out what she might be like, this ex-queen. The image I had of an ex-queen was somebody who appears in the glossy magazines, jet-setting around the world in a rather empty way - I was thinking perhaps of ex-queen Soraya in the 60s. And then as for the astronomers I had a pleasant time reading the articles on astronomy in the encyclopaedia picking up some ideas and some vocabulary and gradually I saw what this woman was doing and I think she was trying to find some function for herself, she was somebody who had been divorced because she couldn't have children and therefore was useless to the king, and so there she is in this world of scientists trying to find some sort of way of expressing herself when she's been brought up to do nothing except to please men.

The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

They serve revolving saucer eyes,
dishes of stars; they wait upon
huge lenses hung aloft to frame
the slow procession of the skies.

They calculate, adjust, record,
watch transits, measure distances.
They carry pocket telescopes
to spy through when they walk abroad.

Spectra possess their eyes; they face
upwards, alert for meteorites,
cherishing little glassy worlds;
receptacles for outer space.

But she, exile, expelled, ex-queen,
swishes among the men of science
waiting for cloudy skies, for nights
when constellations can't be seen.

She wears the rings he let her keep;
she walks as she was taught to walk
for his approval, years ago.
His bitter features taunt her sleep.

And so when these have laid aside
their telescopes, when lids are closed
between machine and sky, she seeks
terrestrial bodies to bestride.

She plucks this one or that among
the astronomers, and is become
his canopy, his occultation;
she sucks at earlobe, penis, tongue

mouthing the tubes of flesh; her hair
crackles, her eyes are comet-sparks.
She brings the distant briefly close
above his dreamy abstract stare.


from Poems 1960-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2000), copyright © Fleur Adcock 2000, used by permission of the author

Recordings

Fleur Adcock Reading from her poems

1A Surprise in the Peninsula

2Stewart Island

3Country Station

4Kilpeck

5The Ex-Queen Among the Astronomers

6The Soho Hospital for Women

7Immigrant

8Crab

9Piano Concerto in E Flat Major

10Street Song

11Leaving the Tate

12Scalford Again

13Chippenham

14The Telephone Call

15Cattle in Mist

16The Russian War

17Water

18Anne Welby

19Swings and Roundabouts

20Willow Creek

21For Meg

22From Kensington Gardens: Droppings

23From Kensington Gardens: Handful

24From Kensington Gardens: Checking Out

25From Kensington Gardens: Goodbye