The opening stanza of Jay Ruzesky's “Sergei Krikalev on the Space Station Mir” is meaningful enough to make this poem my favourite of the semester - or at least the one I relate to most. There is something admirable about a poet who can make simple expressions so profound and brilliant. It is almost entirely monosyllabic, but not underwritten. The physical and emotional strain the speaker depicts distinguishes it from children’s literature, though it reads just as easy. What I love about this poem is that I can relate to every line in my own way.
The first stanza reminds me of how it feels to love someone and get attached too often, too fast. While it is ideal to want to come down or be released from the emotional height of love and infatuation, sometimes reaching the ground is like smacking into the cement of reality, which is far more daunting. Perhaps this is why Sergei never comes down. His body remains a balloon because he inflates with emotion - love, anxiety, passion, fear - and could easily pop, especially in high altitudes. These altitudes of emotion make it difficult to maintain a calm, rational state of mind. Sergei ends up being tied to someone who controls his movement, the scenery around him, where his mind goes, etc.
Being physically separated from the balloon holder is dangerous as well; Sergei might be building images or ideas about his lover - Elena - that are not necessarily true. I imagine he is emotionally separated from his lover because of the different altitudes or levels of feeling, attachment, and identity between them both. When the speaker mentions that his blades are catching “sun from / the other side of the earth,” it makes me think of how the light - or love - humans chase is often far away, keeping us moving until we reach it (Ruzesky 11-12). However, Sergei is also a star that “skates on the dome of night,” meaning that he is a self-illuminated being, capable of loving himself and finding his own happiness among darkness (10). Perhaps humans try to catch another’s light as much as they produce their own.
My interpretation is largely based on my own experiences, but I read “Days last an hour and a half” as “Light lasts an hour and a half” (13). If days are defined as periods of light, the speaker would only be experiencing brief moments of love, hope, or happiness. At the same time, because he is a star, the planet orbiting him must be very close so that it revolves faster with shorter days. Elena could be the planet that often occupies his thoughts, leaving him with little amounts of light and happiness.
Sergei is also described as “a painter standing back,” meaning that he can only observe - not experience - the creation that has consumed him (17). The fifth stanza, describing cream spilled in tea, explains how people are spilled into toxic or consuming relationships and spread thin like clouds. However, Ruzesky describes these images of the natural world as being Sergei’s refuge, something he can hold on to though never actually experience up close. Finally, drifting “out of signal range” describes the point in which one’s unreasonable thoughts take over and inflict immeasurable pain (35). At this point, nobody sees Sergei’s pain, can judge his actions, or pretend to care.
One of my favourite lines is “These feet do not know / my weight” (38-39). Some people never feel stable or grounded because they lack gravity - especially in Sergei's case - or the ability to keep themselves rational. Thoughts and actions are therefore unbound. These people never get to stand, walk, or run normally as others. Instead, they float inside the vast, open space of their minds. Sergei does not feel like he is flying because he is actually bouncing from thought to thought, just as lovers get attached from person to person. When you cling to others for support, there is no freedom. Swimming is a peaceful resolution to floating in space, because to swim in a lover’s hair is to be surrounded in something other than darkness.
Perhaps the most profound line is the final stanza. Lovers and deep thinkers see for years into their own loneliness, pain, and besottedness. Their future is like Sergei's, looking out into space and feeling alone, yet apart of something bigger. In astronomy I learned that when we look out into space, we are actually looking into the past because we receive light from stars billions of light years away. This light has taken so much time to reach our eyes that by the time we see it, we are actually looking at ghost light. In other words, stars have already moved on as space expands in every direction. I interpret this final line as bittersweet; Sergei seems to be chained to the past, to the memory and thought of Elena. However, he is confident that the universe will expand for years to come, as will his love. Although this journal was more of a personal interpretation, the poem's title holds so much identity and subjectivity that it suggests I do the same - describe my own universe.