KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Tanka Prose:
625 words [R]

The Moon in Almagest

by Charles D. Tarlton

Epicycle model from the Almagest: drawing by Claudius Ptolemy

I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral, but when I trace
at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies,
I no longer touch earth with my feet...


“A full moon through branches of a leafless Maple,” the poet was saying, “knitting the night sky in nacreous designs, shards among the fallen leaves.” Everyone agreed that it seemed to come closer, taciturn as if it held a secret, monstrous over the tops of the mountains, and silent. How is it, we asked, that the moon and the stars stay mute? The sea and the storm rage and roar and the wind keens in the desert. The forest leaves rattle. The cities are loquacious right through the night, and the birds are singing.

know geometry
was born in the moon’s imperfect
circle not Euclid’s
imaginary points and lines
in the shape of a human eye

where the straight loci
marked the arbitrary wall
of a pillared house
a wilder art was scrapped with chalk
dreamy folia of Descartes

circles were being drawn
on the night sky’s canopy
in the dome above
and on long arcs where the seas
touch the bottom of the sky

Publisher’s Notes:

1. Illustration above is from the Almagest and displays the epicycle model, the circle-on-a-circle method of planetary motion. Source of image: University of Arizona Natural Sciences Department (March 2005).

Which in turn is from a translation of the Almagest from Arabic to Latin by Gerard of Cremona in 1175: Library of Congress Vatican Exhibit.

2. Epigraph is by Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100–170 CE), ancient Greek geographer, astronomer, and astrologer, from his seminal work MathĒmatikē Syntaxis (also known as the Almagest), a mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of stars and planets, and one of the most influential scientific texts for more than 1200 years.

—From Tarlton’s full-length collection, Touching Fire: New and Selected Ekphrastic Prosimetra (KYSO Flash Press, December 2018); appears here with his permission

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