North Star by Janice Northerns

“Our present-day Polaris won’t remain the North Star forever, due to a motion of Earth known as the precession of the equinoxes.” — Bruce McClure and Deborah Byrd, “Gamma Cephei: A future Pole Star”

Evenings, we walked that path to barn and back,
me lagging behind as I navigated
cow patties and grassburs, Daddy never breaking
his stride. As his warm calloused hands swung
by his side, I’d reach up, land my hand in his,
feel its sure strength guide me back to the path.

Skipping in from school on days too cold
for plowing, I’d find his hands at work.
Newspapers spread around him, he shelled
pecans and kitchen warmth cocooned us
as I hummed to the steady crack crack
of the hulls. I watched his gloved hands shake
those pecans from the trees his father planted
on this land, trees I once thought would stand

forever, like the towering cliff behind
our house — oh, not really a cliff at all —
just sandstone outcropping, maybe five feet
tall. To my nine-year-old eyes that rock
seemed high as the sky, solid as a father,
but the fissure down its center foretold
how rain and cleaving roots would do their work,
and one day I found sandstone had let go,
left a fractured scrabble at my feet.

This morning, my father stumbles through
the kitchen in this house he built fifty years
ago as though he’s tightrope walking
on a starless night. Trembling, he holds out
his hand. I clasp it tight, steadying his legs
for this journey across an unmapped stretch of sky.