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Ad Astra Per Aspera

When fire swallowed everything, our coats,
our house, my sister’s other shoe,
they knew the Great Depression had returned,
their children would grow up in thin-walled shacks

though I remember, in those first hard years,
our mother leading us beyond the dim kerosene lamp
into the dark our father was afraid
would harm us—he’d heard a cougar scream—
to show us stars: the night alive with light, a sky-river
she called the Milky Way. Only the rural poor
had such pure darkness. Our mother’s voice
was a dance of candle flame beneath this sudden beauty
where if I tipped back my head I could fall up
instead of down as she guided us to see
beyond the blue bowl that would settle in the morning
above the green world I had thought was all.

The house where I live now is small, a starter home,
though clearly I have stopped. For her sake
I might have wanted more, but I have been a victim
of abundance: hot water, and books. Stars.

Bette Lynch Husted has published two collections of memoir essays—Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land and Lessons from the Borderlands—a poetry collection, At This Distance, and a novel, All Coyote’s Children. She lives in Pendleton, Oregon.