Profane Magnitudes

for Edwin Hubble and Edwin Morgan

Humphrey Astley

There’s this piece of cotton wool,
an elliptic object lying on its side,
in—or on—or against
a black field.

Perhaps it has that disconcerting
quality one notices in gauze,
and in that family of fabrics
that tend to the wounded.

They are frail,
the better to attend frailty.
(Perhaps this piece of wool
evokes vanity.)

To a schoolteacher, it looks as though
the brain of a teddy bear has been
tugged through the seam in its head
and stuck to some felt with milky glue.

But this is not a child’s attempt
at sketching something larger
than herself. This is real life.
Because if you zoom in,

you’ll see this cast-off is a cluster of
billions of siblings―a society
of stars. It’s a galaxy, of course.
You are conscious of it now.

It could be any galaxy.
In fact it is every galaxy.
Nothing else is visible now.

                will recur in the sky.


Indifferent to the tendency of light
to make life interesting,
dark energy engorged the cosmos,

flooding the void with voids,
rushing at the edges where there are
no edges—and tore from time

a cloak sewn with stitches
of a million millennia.
A blackwash of gaps.

The Universe just kept on
expanding, its profane size swelling
by profane magnitudes.

Each galaxy enisled
by an expanse no
photon could span.

Each galaxy an island
at the heart of an island—at its heart
a black hole, an arch-ego.

D i a s p o r a n   a  r  c  h  i   p   e   l   a   g   o


Zoom out from our subject,
from this fleck of orphaned atoms.

The facts of their belonging
huddle in the past.

Don’t you feel sorry for them?
Couldn’t you just wrap them

in cotton wool?

Due to the accelerating expansion of the Universe (as discovered by Perlmutter, Schmidt and Reiss in 1998), observers in the distant future will be blind to every galaxy but their own.

Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley is a poet-singer-songwriter based in Oxford, England. He is the author of the three-part concept album and PRS for Music Foundation stage show Alexander the Great: a Folk Operetta, which he describes as ‘a queer runaway myth of two young friends and their fall from grace in Dixie’. His pamphlet Stones through the Windows to the Soul can be downloaded from