by Sherman Alexie
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
When you hear "Dangerous Astronomy," where does your mind go? Shmoop's goes straight to disaster movies—you know, the really apocalyptic ones, with asteroids colliding with the earth and wiping out mankind in a fiery conflagration and/or tidal wave to end all tidal waves.
But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a very different kind of astronomy. Really, we're talking about domestic life. And where's the danger in looking at stars, or standing in a room with people you love?
Just like the poem creates an unexpected tension between the speaker and his relationship to his son and wife (who he keeps comparing to the stars), the title is an unexpected pairing of the words "dangerous" and "astronomy." You immediately ask yourself—what's so scary about peering through a telescope?
Throughout the poem, the speaker compares his wife and son to the stars. We know he wants to praise the stars at the beginning of the poem, but by the end, it's his family that he wants to praise by being a good father.
The rub is that there are some things he just can't do—like nurse a kid, say? As he watches his son breastfeed, he begins to feel jealous. Not really that cool, Dad, but it is what it is, right? As he admits his feelings of jealousy, he also admits that he feels lonely and far away, even while standing in a room with the people he is supposed to love most.
That loving bond between son and mother becomes a threat to the speaker. He doesn't see his part in that equation, feels left out, and lonely. Those crazy emotional things—you know, feelings?—are a bit stormy inside the speaker, and he feels ill at ease.
So what does any of this have to do with stars? Well, it all starts when the speaker wants to go outside and look at the night sky, but he can't, because his son needs some comforting. Maybe he feels a bit guilty for wanting to be outside, away from his son. But then, he can't even comfort his son—only the mom can.
That probably makes our speaker feel a bit foolish. Maybe a bit jealous. And then comes the kicker. What's in store for the speaker is a humbling experience that may have made him feel threatened, even in its beauty.
No wonder he thinks the stars are dangerous. Just as the stars are far away, watching his wife breastfeed his son makes him feel far away from them. And for the speaker of the poem, the realization of that distance is what creates a sense of danger. While he's busy outside praising the stars, his wife and son are inside, developing a close bond of which he's not a part.