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Eclipse

— Jessica Poli

The farm dimmed mid-afternoon, dipping into dusk-light. Beside the parked tractors, we passed around a block of green glass from a welder’s helmet and took turns looking through it up at the sky. I chewed a single pebble of a snap pea in my mouth. That was the size of the sun through the glass, I thought, no bigger than a pea, a sliver missing as if chewed by a caterpillar or potato beetle.

In a total solar eclipse, photosynthesis slows down. Plants, which turn to face the sun throughout the day, may change direction, feeling for the light. Without the sun, they become unmoored. Lost in the dark. In the 2017 eclipse, changes in light intensity were attributed to bees going temporarily still. Observers in the path of totality—the stretch of land where the sun goes fully dark—reported fireflies emerging, crickets chirping. Night behavior bleeding into day.

I stared through the glass. Sun the size of a blueberry. Size of a chrysanthemum bud.

We wouldn’t get to see the total eclipse—that dramatic upheaval of the afternoon’s forward march, an ebb when there should be flow. The path of totality was south of us, stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. Still, the light waned at our small farm. Contrast became muted, the sky and hayfields feeling duller, softer. The zinnia patch still sparked with its shocks of red, orange, pink, yellow, but the flowers seemed unsure of themselves. The shadows from the trees did strange things, cast crescent-shaped spells on the ground, reminding me of the light funneled through a dime-store kaleidoscope. Someone arrived with a pair of glasses—the kind made from plastic and cardboard that they’d been selling at gas stations for months, running out in the final few days. We passed them around, but I preferred the welding glass, the way it turned the sliver of sun goblin-green.

Sun the size of a kernel of the summer’s first sweet corn; the size of a worm, coiled inside an ear from the later crop, chewing on its silky tassel.

During a total solar eclipse, dairy cows have been known to return to their barn as the sun and sky darken. Orb-weaving spiders have been observed taking down their webs during totality, then rebuilding them when the sun reappears. Some species of birds will sing out their night calls, then go to their roosts, falling silent; when the sun reappears, they start their morning rituals. In this sense, the eclipse is a microcosm of night, the dark sped up, the hour hand spinning around a clock at a horse’s trot.

Sun the size of a pepper seed. Size of a flea beetle. A ladybug resting on a windowsill. A thistle bur stuck to a coat.

There is no evidence that an eclipse affects the behavior of horses, but nevertheless, there will be some owners who usher them into the safety of the barn before the sky goes dark. This is a form of love which happens to involve a kind of captivity.

Sun the size of a nostril, size of a belly button, a baby’s tooth, a fingertip. Size of the chunk of flesh I’d sliced off the top of my thumb one day when I was careless with a head of cauliflower. It bled so much and so steadily that I ran to the back of the farm stand where someone sat me down on a bench to bandage the cut. I remember they held my hand so carefully, tilting it one direction then the other, saying twice, maybe three times, You need to be more careful.

Once we’d passed around the glass, we scattered to our different jobs. I drove back to the snap pea patch, where I continued filling a bucket with round, ripe pods. I heard a tractor starting, the exhaust clearing its throat, then watched from where I was crouched as someone connected a hay rake to the back and pulled back onto the road, headed for one of the higher fields, leaving a cloud of dust and acres of silence behind. I realized then that the birds, which were usually a constant chorus, had gone quiet—the small snapping of my hands plucking peas from their vines, the only noise that reached me. I stood, stretching, and looked at the sky, the familiar fields—their flat, muted light. I stood there looking at the farm that for years I had grown to know and care for, and I thought of scale—of how the land surrounding me had come to feel like it was my own body, a breathing, pulsing creature that could weep or swell; and, at the same time, how the land felt unthinkably large—a roaring sun—the weight of it and of the people who worked it reaching deep into the smallest cracks and crevasses of my life like the tendrilled arms of solar flares bursting.

I thought of all of this as I rolled another snap pea over my tongue, biting down, tasting the small eruption of green. Then I bent down, knees to dirt, to finish my work.


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