One day several years ago, I was killing time — and trying to cool my nerves — before a job interview. I was wandering in a bookstore, leafing idly through this book and that, when I came across a slim volume called “Responsibility to Awe.” It was poetry by someone named Rebecca Elson.

I read a few of the poems, and liked them. Then I looked at the back and saw that she had died not long before, at 39, of lymphoma. This had special resonance to me, for personal reasons, but other parts of her biography were striking as well. She had been an astronomer, born in Canada and ending her career at Cambridge. She studied “dark matter,” the invisible, mysterious substance — known only by inference from its effects on other matter — which is believed to make up the bulk of the universe, holding it together. And, as the book bio said, her work “also focused on globular clusters, teasing out the history of stellar birth, life and death.”

I bought the book, which also contained a long section from her journals, and poems in manuscript, and other fragments. Not long after, this song came to me. I recorded the very rough sketch here in a back room a couple of years ago; one of these days, I’ll do it up right maybe, and do her more justice.

Rebecca by Chris Floyd


No more words, Rebecca,
From your mouth or your pen.
The sky is closed, Rebecca,
Those stars won’t shine again.
It’s all gone wrong, Rebecca,
But that’s the way it always goes.
Give me your book, Rebecca,
And let me hold you close.

Another man, Rebecca,
Knew the lightning in your eyes.
He felt your heart beneath him
As it yearned toward the skies.
Now he’s lost, Rebecca,
The silk has fallen through his hands.
The last wave, Rebecca,
Has washed it from the sands.

In the farthest reaches
Where the first ray of light
Sends its echo to us
Through the dark weight of night,
Are you there, Rebecca,
Like a fire in the mind,
In the sparks that glisten
On the water and the wine?

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