Pluto Demoted

A poem protesting the move to strip Pluto of its designation as a planet, and a tribute to Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto on photographic negatives of star photographs in 1932. There's also a reference to H.P. Lovecraft, who called the as-yet-undetected ninth planet "Yuggoth" in his writings.

No longer a planet, they say!
Pluto, Hades, Yuggoth*, Nine

is now a nothing,
a rock among rocks
despite the tug of its companion,
silent and airless Charon,
the loyal circling
of Nix and Erys.**

Now you are a “mini-world,”
an oversize asteroid
tumbling in dustbelt
so dark and distant
our sun is but a blob
of wavering starlight.

World of death and darkness,
methane, monoxide molting
in every orbiting,
shunned by the sun that made you,
must you now be snubbed by man?

How demote a planet
so lustrous in history?
It has its gods! It has its gods!
Can they evict
  the Lord of the Dead
with just a say-so?
What of the millions of souls
whose home was Hades?
What of beautiful Persephone
who shuttles still
   on a high-speed comet
for her six-month residency
as mistress of the underworld?
What of the heroes and philosophers,
the shades of pagan times
who teem those basalt cities
warming the Plutonian night
with odes and songs and serenades?
Are they to be homeless vagabonds,
slowed from their distant heartbeat
to the stillness of absolute zero?

At first, it was “Planet X,”
   out there somewhere
   because Neptune wobbled,
   nodded its rings
   toward Death’s domain.
Then a Kansas farm boy
obsessed with the stars
   ground his own mirrors
   built his own telescope
   with car parts and farm equipment.
Hailstones destroyed the farm crops.
   The telescope survived.
The boy sent drawings of Mars
    and Jupiter
to Lowell Observatory —

Come work for us, they said.
He hopped a train, had just enough
   cash for a one-way fare.

And then, in monk-like hermitage
he toiled at Flagstaff,
comparing sky photographs,
hundreds of thousands of stars,
negative over negative to light,
searching for celestial wanderers,
planetoi, asteroids, comets
that moved when everything else
stood still in the cosmos.

Clyde Tombaugh, twenty-four,
surveyed a sky
where fifteen million lights
the brightness of Pluto twinkled
but only one was Pluto.
He found it.


They sought him out
in his retirement,
those fellows
from the Smithsonian,
asked for his home-made instrument
for their permanent collection.
“Hell no,” he said,
“I’m still using it.”


I would as soon
forget Kansas as Pluto.
Tell Tombaugh’s ghost
his planet is not a planet!

I can see the old man now,
just off the death-barge
he hopped from Charon,
greeting the Lords of Acheron,
that rusted tube of telescope
under his arm,
scouting a mountaintop
for his next observatory.

Pluto, Hades, Yuggoth, Nine!
Change at your peril
a thing once named!

Yuggoth is the name assigned to the Ninth planet, before its discovery, in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
* Nix and Erys are two smaller satellites of Pluto.


  1. Nice cadence. It moves rapidly through the many topics with a swift pace. A lot of fun!


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