Five Dozen Comets Named Linear

Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons, and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do….
--Dr. Seuss, “Too Many Daves”

Once, anyone charged with ambition and hope
with a grasp of the sky and a good telescope
and a lot of free time could seek heavenly fame:
A comet that henceforth would carry their name.
And thus are immortalized Herschel and West,
Hale, Bopp, Hyakutake, Kohoutek, D’Arrest
and dozens who waited through long, lonely nights
for celestial tadpoles to swim through their sights.

But that’s history: LINEAR’s now on the scene.
It’s a sort of an asteroid-hunting machine,
a mechanized telescope scanning the sky
for renegade boulders that gallivant by.
It locates stray rocks that could wallop the Earth—
crash humanity’s party, mess with our mirth.
To boot, this collection of gizmos and grommets
has shown quite a talent for tracking down comets.
It’s found some five dozen, including the lot
that backyard observers might otherwise spot—
and each of the sixty-odd fuzzballs it’s found
is named Comet LINEAR—perish the sound!
Some five dozen LINEARs hurtling above—
a moniker only an android could love.

With this gaggle of LINEARs cruising about
it’s a maddening puzzle to sort them all out.
They’re indexed by letter, by number, by year:
Sublime astrobabble, imperfectly clear.
This winter, for instance, one’s joining the fun
known as LINEAR 2000 Dubya Em One.
It’ll scoot west of Betelgeuse, dodge the Whale’s mouth,
pass the Pleiades, Aries, and scoot to the south.
You might take it in with your unaided eye
but there’s no guarantee, for we’ve schmutzed up the sky.
Our vision impeded, our worldview grown skinnier
while the night vomits more and more comets named LINEAR.

--Tony Hoffman
© 2001

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