From 'Eclipse' by Joe Safdie, with a note on its poetics by the author

A sunrise, the sun’s course, a sunset are marvelous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom, and indeed are more marvelous than lunar eclipses, because these are more frequent. Thus nature shows that she is not aroused by the common ordinary event, but is moved by a new and striking occurrence. Let art, then, imitate nature, find what she desires, and follow as she directs. — Frances Yates, The Art of Memory



6 August: New York Times

On the morning of August 21,

the moon’s shadow will appear

over the Pacific Ocean and move

swiftly toward Lincoln Beach Oregon,

making landfall at 10:16 A.M. local time.

If the morning fog has lifted by then,

and if the weather is clear,

viewers will see something in the sky

that most have never seen:

a black hole where the sun should be,

and around the edges sinuous flames

radiating in all directions.

Stars and planets will come out,

winds will shift, birds and bats

will behave strangely, crickets will chirp.


I stood on a crowded beach in Turkey

and waited until, at the allotted time,

with a chorus of screams and cheers

and whistles and applause, the sun

slid away, and impossibly, impossibly,

we saw above us a stretch of black sky

and in the middle of it a hole, blacker

than anything I’d ever seen, fringed

with a ring of soft white fire. My heart

jumped up to my throat, and my eyes

grew hot with tears. I fell to my knees,

feeling tiny and huge, and as lonely

as I’ve ever been, but also astonishingly

close to the crowds around me.

Totality — that point of a solar eclipse

when the sun is entirely covered

by the moon — is incomprehensible.

Your mind can’t grasp any of it:

not the dark, not the sunset clouds

on the horizon, nor the stars;

just that extraordinary wrongness,

up there, that pulls the eyes toward it.

I stared up at the hole in the sky

and then at the figures around me,

and became gripped by the conviction

that my life was over; that I was

kneeling in the underworld

with all the shades of the dead.


A 260-day Aztec calendar stone

may depict the death of the sun god Tonatluh

at the hands of an eclipse monster,

whose claws clutch at human hearts


Full moon in Aquarius, the event now

just two weeks away, “96% of everything

is dark (matter or energy); it is sight itself

that has blinded us to nearly the entire universe”

darkness keeps us in place     dark energy

dark matter     “He reveals mysteries from the darkness,

And brings the deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22)

God is Light, yet the scriptures tell us that

He makes darkness His secret place.

Oh, the wonders of God! Who can know His mind?

Let men pry, but His ways are past finding out,

and one of those things men cannot find out is

the mystery of light that comes out of darkness.


9 August

OED: OF eclipse, esclipse, ad. L. eclipsis, Gr. eclepsis

literally “to forsake its accustomed place, fail to appear”

which would imply what matters is that the sun

lets itself get eclipsed, an act of generosity …

1. An interception or obscuration of the light

of the sun (moon, or other luminous body)

by the intervention of some other body, either

between it and the eye, or between the luminous body

and that illuminated by it; “These late eclipses

in the Sun and Moone portend no good to us”

2. obscuration, obscurity; dimness;

loss of brilliance or splendor, the eclipse

of reason and decency: the eclipse of truth.


the Newport, Oregon police

were recently alerted to a cat

who appeared to be armed,

possibly with a semi-automatic weapon,

who had situated itself high in a tree


13 August

Solar and lunar eclipses are significant events

at a spiritual level. There is an increase in Raja-Tama

which has negative effects on humanity …

the environment becomes conducive

for negative energies to amass black energy.

Black energy is a type of spiritual energy

that is the primary weapon of attack of ghosts

[who] utilize their black energy to harm humankind

during the period of the eclipse

as well as to sow the seeds of destruction …

shore wind will dissipate the fog and warm the air,

so attention to the eclipse-day forecast

will tell whether to stay or whether to move

to an inland trans-mountain location.

What is the meaning of a solar eclipse?

To the ancient Chinese, solar eclipses meant

that dragons were devouring the sun.

To the Czechoslovakians, they meant that ice giants,

bitter enemies of the sun, were conquering it.

To the Romans, they meant that the sun was poisoned

and dying. To the Jews, solar eclipses meant that the moon

was passing between the sun and the earth …

Many eras in history have been dark for us.

But during these times, we should remember

that G-ds light has not been extinguished;

it is merely in a state of hester panim,

hiddenness. And just as the sunlight always emerges

from its eclipse (sigh), so too are all situations

of hester panim only temporary, destined to be

followed by the light of G-ds redemption.

Even during the darkness of a solar eclipse,

all is not entirely in gloom. The sun is

four hundred times further away from us

than the moon, but it is also four hundred times

larger than the moon (secular scientists call this

a “grand coincidence”) … while the sun

is essentially obscured, shafts of sunlight

may appear around the edge of the moon

as they shine through the mountains

on its surface. When Yosef’s brothers sold him

to a passing caravan, we are taught that

G-d arranged matters such that the merchants

would be carrying sweet-smelling spices

instead of their usual foul cargo.

Now, this would appear to be of little comfort

to Yosef. He had just been betrayed

by his brothers and sold to heathens as a slave.

What was the consolation in his prison quarters

having a nice smell? The answer is that precisely

because this was the lowest point of Yosef’s life,

G-d wanted to show that He was still with him.

This minor but significant gesture strengthened

Yosef’s spirits during his long ordeal.

Such is the message of the shafts of light,

which we perceive during the darkness

of a solar eclipse. They are literally “rays of hope,”

and they remind us that even during

the dark periods of life, we are to look for

those small signs that tell us that G-d is still with us.


15 August, Sacramento Airport, New York Times Again

a jungle in Mikongo, Gabon

the top of a mountain in Tianhuangping, China

the frigid wilderness of Svalbard, Norway


and Ferris Jabr’s text: All life on earth

depends on a luminous umbilical cord

eight minutes and 19 seconds long,


the time it takes light to travel here

from the sun. During a total solar eclipse,

this lifeline is temporarily severed.


At the moment of totality, a tide of darkness

briefly swallows the land. Life responds

instantaneously. Most living things have


biological clocks — constellations of genes,

proteins and neurons — synchronized

to the sun’s rhythms … Earth’s surface temperature


drops by as much as 13 degrees Fahrenheit.

The very chemistry of the air changes.

Certain molecules produced by


light-activated reactions, such as ozone,

suddenly dwindle … A total solar eclipse

is not just the momentary theft of day.


It is a profound interruption of the world

as we know it, all the more terrifying

in its transience. Imagine what would happen


if we altered the planet’s relationship with the sun.

An eclipse of our own making.

A new era of twilight with no promise of dawn.


August 21, 9:36 AM

found a spot near a river

just east of Corvallis

two bikers from Seattle here first

eclipse glasses working

sun about one third occluded

slowly growing from the northeast

at about 1:00 … clock metaphors?

river     sun     moon

the new moon is the only chance

for the yin principle to assert herself

the world 88% yang

foggy by the coast when we left

we wanted an ocean but this will do

9:45 about 40% covered

the right brain slowly taking over

sweet blackberries     elemental

Sara on her cell phone     checking

to see how our cat was reacting

conversation with the bikers

9:52 perfect yin-yang circle

balance is not “totality”

zen master shrugs her shoulders

flight home in 3 ½ hours*

watching the river flow

right to left     Mahayana

not Hin9ayana     holding Sara’s hand


*this line was wild exaggeration


24 August

            after the eclipse

                        endless poetry

     (the name of a Jodorowsky movie


but this may be one of those times

     that I follow

Marianne Moore’s example


and the movie’s pretty damn good

the singing mother

     and the strawberry cake


hope and no hope

     poetry and cynicism

            endlessly recycling


but on the last day

     of Endless Poetry

at San Diego theaters


my poetry class got cancelled

            for lack of interest

“it’s not required”


     “poets and muses

meet there every night

maybe you’ll find yours”


     I really gotta read

Nicanor Parra again

poets don’t explain themselves


after the eclipse

everything was new again

and Orpheus is here too!


            love will always

get corrupted by purity

9“I am not a faggot”


     said Enrique Linh

“nor poets into teachers”

            adios poetas


The Poetics of “Eclipse”

This poem was clearly a collaborative enterprise: joining me, in addition to the cited and uncited sources here, were writers who had posted on social media about the forthcoming eclipse, cable news broadcasters, weather forecasters, baseball commentators and a few people I don’t remember. Indeed, most of my recent work seems like assemblage, and I remember an earlier poem, “Against Romanticism,” when I quoted Walter Benjamin:

            This work must raise the art

            of citing without quotation marks

            to the highest level,

            its theory most intimately linked

            to that of montage.

So perhaps it was ever thus. Still, it might be one way to navigate our post-truth or post-fact age, when politics and technology have converged to make the line between fiction and non-fiction porous indeed. Can any of us be sure what’s meaningful or meaningless anymore, what’s relevant and irrelevant? David Shields, in a book I’ve come to value highly called Reality Hunger, wrote “Our culture is obsessed with real events because we experience hardly any.” And yet we hunger for them. This poem charts that hunger.