Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lunar Men and Women

Day 107 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. Linda, a professor of astronomy, is reading The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow (what a perfect name!), about the scientists and engineers of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, England in the late eighteenth century.

“They met on the Monday after the Full Moon so as to have light to travel home by,” says Linda, “and discussed science, inventions, and politics. Many of them also wrote poetry and literature.” A lovable bunch of "lunaticks," these fellows were, as the subtitle says, Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. Indeed, one was James Watt of the famous steam engine, and one was Joseph Priestley, who figured out what oxygen was! One was Josiah Wedgwood, of Wedgwood china, and one was Erasmus Darwin, who gave us...Charles Darwin, his grandson, and evolutionary awareness. And one was a toymaker, Matthew Boulton. What a powerful bunch of inventive brains!

Wow! And tonight is the full moon, giving plenty of light to travel home by (if it doesn’t storm) or poetic inspiration. I am very touched that many people have been writing, calling, and emailing to say they are reading my new poetry chapbook, Living on the Earth, just out from Finishing Line Press and also available at Babbitt’s Books, which has a little almost full moon on the cover. (See, I told you I would tell you more here in the blog when it came out. Sigh, once again, all about me! But, never fear, I’ll be linking you to plenty of Un-Me.)

The working title for this book was Living on the Moon, and was building itself around what would have been the title poem, first published in Fifth Wednesday. (Thanks to editor Vern Miller for that, and guest poetry editor Nina Corwin of the inaugural issue!) Here is the poem, partly inspired by a news story on National Public Radio and partly by a feeling of alienation, as business and politics “as usual” carried on in our country and my personal life was squeezing the air out of me.

Living on the Moon

When they finally come, they’ll find me
here already. I won’t have disturbed
the flag on its pole,

only a photograph, anyway,
only a memory now.

I’ve received the radio transmission
on Neil Armstrong’s sound glitch, his intended grammar.
They will all want to say the right thing

but there’s not enough oxygen.

I’ve watched the ice caps melt. I know why
they are coming.
They’ll discover on their own how cliché devolves

into truth: you really can’t go home again.
But I can show them how to live here step by step,
small by giant.

I’ve learned how to breathe
with my helmet off.

I’ve learned how to climb out of all the craters.

Then we had another election, people started to go “green,” the local food movement took off, I quit my job and left everything but my husband, and I began to feel more like Living on the Earth. But that’s another title poem, for another day. (Thank you, dears, for reading my book!)

Meanwhile, the cold Martian winter has, as scientists expected, caused the Phoenix to bite the mythically red Martian dust. A mythical Phoenix may rise from the flames, but a NASA Phoenix cannot rise from the carbon dioxide ice on Mars. Is somebody reading The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury?!


Kim said...

I read your book. And I know how to climb out of Ubehebe Crater!

Anonymous said...

I heard your reading of this poem on the radio, and thought it was terrific. Then I read it here again, and, again: it's terrific. It may have come from a moment or period of alienation and airlessness, but it transcended and transmuted it into something truly inspiring. So, wow, and thank you.


Kathleen said...

Thank you!

Peg Kirk said...

I'm glad you're living on the earth and not the moon. It's so much cosier here.