Teacher from the Crab Nebula

By Sylvia Keepers

I. Dendrites

Like the veins of a leaf,
Or a river seen from above,
Lines branch and divide,
Cross open space,
run for miles through pewter-colored valleys
mottled by clouds the color of water.

One spot along this chain of ridge and refraction
Rises clear and green.
A tree
Anchoring the shadows for a moment,
A brief obstruction
in the flow of clouds
and lines of communication.

In this place
we follow the lines, the dendrites, the nerves of technology.
Whose impulses move whispering through wires,
Joining and dividing.
Trunk lines and capillaries
that sizzle and hum,
Busy with a hundred, a thousand, a million conversations.

And in her black boat of a bed
One voice crests above the rest.

II. Teacher from the Crab Nebula

Often in dreams
She hears this voice,
Familiar as her own,
Speaking to bone marrow,
To the inner ear.
But for all its familiarity,
It is alien–not human.

Whose voice is this?

She is reminded of her first love,
A cadaverous youth
Whose rich baritone came
From three feet behind his frail, curved spine,
Balancing, in her adolescent mind,
On that perfect knife-edge of
Corruption and grace.

Whose voice is this?

She catalogs her names for him:
She likes the last one,
Calls him “Teacher from the Crab Nebula.”
And asks
Who better to teach the strangeness of being human?

“Listen,” he says,
Calling her attention to . . . what?
She leans forward,
Straining to hear.
“Listen!” he beseaches her.
“Yes!!” she returns eagerly, as to a lover.
“No, not to me! Listen to the shadows.
Listen to the shadows in the wires.”
Ah! The shadows in the wires.
How could I have thought otherwise?
She begins to do his bidding–
Stops short,
realizes she has no idea
what he’s talking about.

She thinks of the valley,
Pewter-colored, with clouds like water,
Casting shadows
On fields of grass and copper wires alike.
Those shadows–they’re the ones! She is sure.
But no.

“Listen to the shadows IN the wires,” he tells her.
“That’s where you’ll hear the truth.
Listen to the voices.
Then listen to the silence in between.
That silence is the shadow.”

These signals come in pulses,
Like radio waves–
Loud and clear one moment,
Faint the next,
Drowned by static.
Del Rio at night,
Streaming from a white plastic radio,
Offering prayer clothes for three dollars,
Hankies blessed by some holy huckster.
First clear, then indistinct, and
Clear again.

She remembers a game kids used to play,
listening to a pulsing tone then shouting down the spaces,
Using the phone to talk to others in the void.

She’ll do the same.
But first she listens.

III. When Angels Dream

Her teacher
Instructs her
To pick up the receiver
Of a telephone placed conveniently
On the side of a tree
In the forest,
Where earlier she has followed
Those pulsing lines.

It glows red.
Easy to see.
Easing her down into the correct position
As a flower guides the pollinating bee.

Of one voice, pure and clear,
Rising above the rest,
She asks,
“Who is that?”
“A boy,” says the teacher, simply.
“One who lives on the Other Side.”

A boy.
Who lives on the Other Side.
She pictures it like this:
Her bed, holding her like a boat in a small sea,
A safe, known world.
And beyond, four inches of plaster and lathe away,
The dark and Other realm
of dreams and their inhabitants, and
that other shore,
a black lagoon,
Lit only by phosphorescent sand.

Four inches away
is another land
Populated with creatures unlike ourselves,
With laws and physics of their own.
Dark matter with the weight of a ghostly Ganesh,
Passes each moment through our bodies, unseen, Unfelt.

“Hello,” she calls out.
“Who are you?”


A voice of dark matter flowing unseen, unfelt
Through her
each moment.

What am I to him?
The same?

But now he begins,
That boy.
As if to himself.
His voice comes
From a distant land.
Distant even to one who is dreaming.

He talks
Of a road
A lake
A trip he made to town
The mailbox.

But this voice,
As joyful and sweet,
As an angel in the “Magic Flute”
Offering help when all is lost
Breathes eagerness and innocence.

She jumps at the chance.
“What can you tell me
Of my life?” she calls.

“Your life?”
He asks, incredulous.
At once, in a crackling of wires, he disappears.
She’s afraid she’s lost him.
But then he’s back.

“Who are you?” he says.
And where do you live?”
At least she knows for sure he hears her now.
And they begin to talk.
Slowly at first.
One raindrop falling, then
Picking up the pace, making a
A torrent of words.
Loving to talk,
Loving to listen,
Loving each other,
Loving themselves.

Later, awake,
she will have no notion
What they talked about.

The Teacher, at last,
Draws her aside
And tells her this:

“When someone from the Land of Dreams
speaks with you,
He tells you the secrets of the Universe,
The human heart, and more.
(you must believe me here)
To him, you are an Angel.
In that land, they hear a human voice
And think some God or Goddess
Speaks to them.
Fervently, they seek some sign of you.
A change in clouds,
St. Elmo’s Fire–
And voices in the wires.
You are his angel,
The one who tells the secrets
Of the Other World.”

I hold no secrets.
None to tell an angel.
And less than none that might contain
a bit of wisdom or of grace.”

He waves her off,
She hears it in his voice.

“Their religion is Humanity,
Mysterious, remote,
And alien.
When you speak to him
He hears you just as you hear him,
Angelic, joyful, wise.
When the angels dream,
They dream of you.”

Earth at Night, South America [hd video]

(Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

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3 Responses to Teacher from the Crab Nebula

  1. I wanted to publish this poem on Mystic Nebula because of its near-perfect blend of the nature, science, and the supernatural. Just awesome…

  2. divadiane1 says:

    This is fabulous!! Thank you for sharing. It’s a subject which can speak to anyone and it’s beautifully written with vivid imagery! More please!

  3. Karita says:

    Just read this and it gave me the chills :)

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