Tuesday, August 04, 2015

'Sliver of moon like a thin peel of soap': Apollo 11 and the poetry of longing and loss

As you know I love a bit of space poetry, and if it happens to be Australian, well, all the better. This wonderful poem, full of gentle rhyme and wistful metaphor, really resonates with me because it describes so well my own experience of the Apollo moon landing in 1965, where I similarly huddled, with an entire rural primary school of students, into the teacher's residence to watch the first steps on a black and white television.

It's really a poem, though, of love and loss. I could go on with my amateur analysis, but I won't: please read it for yourself and enjoy the subtle twists of the poet's art. This is by Stephen Edgar, and it won the 2005 Peter Porter Poetry Prize.

(Note on attribution: I was alerted to this poem by the Australian Book Review newsletter. Here it is on the original website).

Photograph by Victor Rogus

Man on the moon
Hardly a feature in the evening sky
As yet  near the horizon the cold glow
Of rose and mauve which, as you look on high,
Deepens to Giotto’s dream of indigo.
Hardly a star as yet. And then that frail
Sliver of moon like a thin peel of soap
Gouged by a nail, or the paring of a nail:
Slender enough repository of hope.
There was no lack of hope when thirty-five
Full years ago they sent up the Apollo 
Two thirds of all the years I’ve been alive.
They let us out of school, so we could follow
The broadcast of that memorable scene,
Crouching in Mr Langshaw’s tiny flat,
The whole class huddled round the TV screen.
There’s not much chance, then, of forgetting that.
And for the first time ever I think now,
As though it were a memory, that you
Were in the world then and alive, and how
Down time’s long labyrinthine avenue
Eventually you’d bring yourself to me,
With no excessive haste and none to soon 
As memorable in my history
As that small step for man onto the moon.
How pitiful and inveterate the way
We view the paths by which our lives descended
From the far past down to the present day
And fancy those contingencies intended,
A secret destiny planned in advance
Where what is done is as it must be done
For us alone. When really it’s all chance
And the special one might have been anyone.
The paths that I imagined to have come
Together and for good have simply crossed
And carried on. And the delirium
We found is cold and sober now and lost.
The crescent moon, to quote myself, lies back,
A radiotelescope propped to receive
The signals of the circling zodiac.
I send my thoughts up, wishing to believe
That they might strike the moon and be transferred
To where you are and find or join your own.
Don’t smile. I know the notion is absurd,
And everything I think, I think alone.

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