Author’s Note: “When I wrote “Debris” I was working on a series of poems about things we leave behind. When I started to research space junk, I was taken by the notion of something so small being capable of immense damage. The poem took off from there.”
The boy says, Dad did you know there are half a million pieces
of space junk orbiting the Earth?
We are sitting at the kitchen table.
Then he says, those are just the ones bigger than a marble.
We are sitting together there because his sister has friends over
and his mother is teaching music lessons in the living room.
I say, I am trying to read this. I say, I need to concentrate.
The junk is left over from other missions, he says.
I ask, have you done your homework yet?
Some pieces move 17,000 miles per hour.
Have you cleaned your room?
And that half million is just the pieces large enough to be tracked.
I know you haven’t practiced your cello.
I know you haven’t taken out the trash.
He says, there’s at least a million more pieces of debris
too small for the instruments to see.
Then I look at the boy and say,
I wish for once you would listen to me
and do what you’re supposed to do.
I say, I wish you were more like your sister.
Even tiny flecks of paint decades old are dangerous, he says,
because you can’t see them coming
and they move so fast.
Matthew Roth is the author of Bird Silence (Woodley Press). His poetry has appeared in 32 Poems, Verse, Fence, Birmingham Poetry Review, and many other journals. He teaches creative writing and literature at Messiah University, in Grantham, Pennsylvania.
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