Total Eclipse by Ben Groner III

— Hopkinsville, Kentucky, August 2017

We strangers—the Vietnam War vet, the graying woman, 
the pale teenager, and myself—stand near a telescope
in a high school parking lot to watch the moon open its mouth 

and swallow the sun. Hard to believe it will happen, the morning 
so green-bright and heavy with heat. Roy, the veteran, 
is regaling us with stories of visiting every U.S. Navy vessel 

in the sea in 1975 while the woman smiles silently and I tinker 
with my camera’s tripod. After so much waiting, does 
readiness wax or wane? The celestial coins begin to rub together, 

merging gradually, the light slowly silvering until it happens: 
A few seconds of shadows shimmying along the ground
like veins of sunshine underwater, then the sudden enveloping 

dimness of standing in an enormous room when someone flips 
off the light switch. Stars blink on like streetlamps 
warming up. A cool breeze riffles through the sweetgum trees. 

Somewhere nearby, a cricket rasps groggily. Everything feels 
surreal, the colors muted and all wrong, and above us
that black void, a perfect circle, like a tunnel to another galaxy,

an escape we didn’t know we wanted, or needed. A diaphanous 
ring shimmers around the edge, and the elderly woman 
exclaims: “Isn’t this thrilling?” as if we were all missing it, and 

maybe we were. I’m fumbling with my camera, trying in vain 
to snap a picture, then glance over and see the teenager
standing frozen, his mouth mirroring the eclipse, and I too am 

stunned into silence and stillness. After all, how many hundreds 
of hours have we spent sitting in traffic, standing in line, 
washing the dishes, brushing our teeth? I couldn’t say, but for

these three minutes, we four strangers get to crane our necks 
toward a phenomenon so far beyond us, so blindingly near.
There’s a sense it’s been orchestrated (size, distance, perspective)

for our wonder, even as the laws of physics propel the objects
farther along their orbits. In thirty seconds, we’d all 
mumble goodbyes, jump back into our trajectories and head 

down highways to cities and towns with their duties, sirens, walls. 
And though I could already feel the moment slipping away 
the way everything does—seawater through fingers, coins through 

pocket holes—for now I wanted only enough time to behold the 
mystery above me, to live in that instant just before the sun 
peeks out from behind the moon, and again floods the day with light.

Ben Groner III lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is the recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry and a Pushcart Prize nomination. His work is published in Appalachian Heritage, New Mexico Review, Third Wednesday, Gnarled Oak, The Bookends Review, Gravel, and elsewhere.

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