Seven Poems with the Word “Moon”
by Dorianne Laux
FACTS ABOUT THE MOON
The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year. That means
if you’re like me and were born
around fifty years ago, the moon
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What’s a person supposed to do?
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face. I begin thinking
about the moon-lit past, how if you go back
far enough you can imagine the breathtaking
hugeness of the moon, prehistoric
solar eclipses when the moon covered the sun
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for.
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
But these are bald facts.
What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please, don’t tell me
what I already know, that it won’t happen
for a long time. I don’t care. I’m afraid
of what will happen to the moon.
Forget us. We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done. These nights
I harbor a secret pity for the moon, rolling
around alone in space without
her milky planet, her only love, a mother
who’s lost a child, a bad child,
a greedy child or maybe a grown boy
who’s murdered and raped, a mother
can’t help it, she loves that boy
anyway, and in spite of herself
she misses him, and if you sit beside her
on the padded hospital bench
outside the door to his room you can’t not
take her hand, listen to her while she
weeps, telling you how sweet he was,
how blue his eyes, and you know she’s only
romanticizing, that she’s conveniently
forgotten the bruises and booze,
the stolen car, the day he ripped
the phones from the walls, and you want
to slap her back to sanity, remind her
of the truth: he was a leech, a fuck-up,
a little shit, and you almost do
until she lifts her pale puffy face, her eyes
two craters, and then you can’t help it
either, you know love when you see it,
you can feel its lunar strength, its brutal pull.
ON THE BACK PORCH
The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.
In Alaska I slept in a bed on stilts, one arm
pressed against the ice-feathered window,
the heat on high, sweat darkening the collar
of my cotton thermals. I worked hard to buy that bed,
hiked towards it when the men in the booths
were finished crushing hundred dollar bills
into my hand, pitchers of beer balanced on my shoulder
set down like pots of gold. My shift ended at 5 am:
station tables wiped clean, salt and peppers
replenished, ketchups married. I walked the dirt road
in my stained apron and snow boots, wool scarf,
second-hand gloves, steam rising
off the backs of horses wading chest deep in fog.
I walked home slow under Orion, his starry belt
heavy beneath the cold carved moon.
My room was still, quiet, squares of starlight
set down like blank pages on the yellow quilt.
I left the heat on because I could afford it, the house
hot as a sauna, and shed my sweater and skirt,
toed off my boots, slung my damp socks
over the oil heater’s coils. I don’t know now
why I ever left. I slept like the dead
while outside my window the sun rose
low over the glacier, and the glacier did its best
to hold on, though one morning I woke to hear it
giving up, sloughing off a chunk of antediluvian ice,
a sound like an iron door opening on a bent hinge.
Those undefined days I stared into the blue scar
where the ice face had been, so clear and crystalline
it hurt. I slept in my small room and all night—
or what passed for night that far north—
the geography of the world outside my window
was breaking and falling and changing shape.
And I woke to it and looked at it and didn’t speak.
MICK JAGGER (World Tour, 2008)
He stands on stage
after spot-lit stage, yowling
with his rubber mouth. If you
turn off the sound he’s
a ruminating bovine,
a baby’s face tasting his first
sour orange or spitting
spooned oatmeal out.
Rugose cheeks and beef
jerky jowls, shrubby hair
waxed, roughed up, arms
slung dome-ward, twisted
branches of a tough tree, knees
stomping high as his sunken chest.
Oddities aside, he’s a hybrid
of stamina and slouch,
tummy pooch, pouches under
his famous invasive rolling eyes.
He flutters like the pages
of a dirty book, doing
the sombrero dance, rocking
round black foot, one hand
gripping the skinny metal rod,
the other pumping its victory fist
like he’s flushing a chain toilet.
Old as the moon and sleek
as a puma circling the herd.
The vein in his forehead
pops. His hands drop into fists.
He bows like a beggar then rises
like a monarch. Sir Mick,
our bony ruler. Jagger, slumping
off stage shining with sweat.
Oh please don’t die. Not now,
not ever, not yet.
The old dog next door won’t stop barking
at the moon. My neighbor is keeping a log:
what time, how long, whether howling is involved.
I know she’s awake as I am, robe askew,
calling animal control while I drink dark tea
and stare out my window at the voodoo moon,
throwing beads of light into the arms
of the bare-chested trees. Who can blame him
when the moon is as big as a kitchen clock
and ticking like a time bomb? The bright full moon
with its beryl core and striated face, its plasma umbra,
pouring borrowed light into every abyss on earth,
turning the rivers silver, plowing the mountains’
shadows across grasslands and deserts, towns
riddled with mineshafts, oil rigs and mills,
yellow tractors asleep in the untilled fields.
The what-were-they-like moon staring down
on rain-pocked gravestones, worming its way
into gopher holes, setting barbed wire fences ablaze.
Who wouldn’t love this old tooth moon,
this toilet paper moon? This feral, flea-bitten moon
is that dog’s moon, too. Certain-of-nothing moon, bone
he can’t wait to sink his teeth into. Radio moon,
the white dial tuned to static. Panic moon,
pulling clouds like blankets over its baby face.
Moon a portrait hung from a nail
in the starred hallway of the past.
Full moon that won’t last.
I can hear that dog clawing at the fence.
Moon a manhole cover sunk in the boulevard
of night, monocle on a chain, well of light,
a frozen pond lifted and thrown like a discus
onto the sky. I scratch my skull, look down
into my stained empty cup. That dog
has one blind eye, the other one’s looking up.
LATE NIGHT TV
Again the insomnia of August,
a night sky buffed by the heat,
the air so still a ringing phone
three blocks away sings
through the fan’s slow moving blades.
The sleeping cat at the foot of the bed
twitches in a pool of dusty sheets,
her fur malt-colored, electric.
Time to rub the shoulder’s tight knots out
with a thumb, flip on the TV, watch a man
douse a white blouse with ink before dipping
that sad sleeve into a clear bucket.
What cup of love poured him into this world?
Did his mother touch her lips
to his womb-battered crown
and inhale his scent?
Did his new father lift him and name him?
He was fed, clothed, taught to talk.
Someone must have picked him up
each time he wobbled and fell.
There might have been a desk, a history book,
pencils in a box, a succession
of wheeled toys.
By what back road did he travel
to this late-night station?
By what imperceptible set of circumstances
does he arrive in my bedroom on a summer night,
pinching a shirt collar between his fingers,
his own invention locked in a blue box,
a rainbow slashed across it?
Somewhere in the universe is a palace
where each of us is imprinted with a map,
the one path seared into the circuits of our brains.
It signals us to turn left at the green light,
right at the dead tree.
We know nothing of how it all works,
how we end up in one bed or another,
speak one language instead of the others,
what heat draws us to our life’s work
or keeps us from a dream until it’s nothing
but a blister we scratch in our sleep.
His voice is soothing, his teeth crooked,
his arms strong and smooth below rolled-up cuffs.
I have the power to make him disappear
with one touch, though if I do the darkness
will swallow me, drown me.
Time to settle back against the pillows
and gaze deeply into the excitement
welling in his eyes. It’s a miracle, he whispers
as the burnt moon slips across the sky.
Then he dumps the grainy crystals in
and stirs the water with a wooden spoon.
MOON IN THE WINDOW
I wish I could say I was the kind of child
who watched the moon from her window,
would turn toward it and wonder.
I never wondered. I read. Dark signs
that crawled toward the edge of the page.
It took me years to grow a heart
from paper and glue. All I had
was a flashlight, bright as the moon,
a white hole blazing beneath the sheets.
A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, winner of The Paterson Prize and The Oregon Book Award for poetry, DORIANNE LAUX’s most recent books of poems are Facts about the Moon and The Book of Men (W.W. Norton). Laux is also author of three collections of poetry from BOA Editions, Awake (1990) introduced by Philip Levine, What We Carry (1994), and Smoke (2000). She lives with her husband, poet Joseph Millar, in Raleigh NC where she teaches poetry at North Carolina State University.