The Daily

The Poem Stuck in My Head

Brenda Shaughnessy’s “I’m Over the Moon”

November 3, 2011 | by

It takes guts to apostrophize a heavenly body. Everybody’s seen them: Sappho, Keats, Mayakovsky, O'Hara, you name it. After all these millions of years, what’s left to say? And to write a poem addressing the moon herself—a breakup poem, no less!—you had better be extremely naive, or else know exactly what you’re doing, and get lucky, too.

This is what bravery looks like in a poem. It is not (necessarily) a matter of sharing personal information. To my mind, a brave poem is one that risks seeming stupid or grandiose or frivolous, that nods in recognition at various poems that came before, then sweeps past, racing toward the thing it came to say.

The first time I read Brenda Shaughnessy’s poem “I’m Over the Moon” five years ago, it was a Sunday and I was sitting at the breakfast table. I remember because “I’m Over the Moon” is the only poem I have ever read out loud at a breakfast table. Having read it, I had to share it. The poem  marked a new directness in Shaughnessy's work (“I've had to learn to be direct”), but all the sass and sense of humor I loved from before were intact. Lately “I'm Over the Moon” has been on my mind again (ever since we published two of Shaughnessy’s more recent poems in the Review).

It is the first entry in our series “The Poem Stuck in My Head”:

“I’m Over the Moon”
By Brenda Shaughnessy

I don’t like what the moon is supposed to do.
Confuse me, ovulate me,

spoon-feed me longing. A kind of ancient
date-rape drug. So I’ll howl at you, moon,

I’m angry. I’ll take back the night. Using me to
swoon at your questionable light,

you had me chasing you,
the world’s worst lover, over and over

hoping for a mirror, a whisper, insight.
But you disappear for nights on end

with all my erotic mysteries
and my entire unconscious mind.

How long do I try to get water from a stone?
It’s like having a bad boyfriend in a good band.

Better off alone. I’m going to write hard
and fast into you, moon, face-fucking.

Something you wouldn’t understand.
You with no swampy sexual

promise but what we glue onto you.
That’s not real. You have no begging

cunt. No panties ripped off and the crotch
sucked. No lacerating spasms

sending electrical sparks through the toes.
Stars have those.

What do you have? You’re a tool, moon.
Now, noon. There’s a hero.

The obvious sun, no bullshit, the enemy
of poets and lovers, sleepers and creatures.

But my lovers have never been able to read
my mind. I’ve had to learn to be direct.

It’s hard to learn that, hard to do.
The sun is worth ten of you.

You don’t hold a candle
to that complexity, that solid craze.

Like an animal carcass on the road at night,
picked at by crows,

taunting walkers and drivers. Your face
regularly sliced up by the moving

frames of car windows. Your light is drawn,
quartered, your dreams are stolen.

You change shape and turn away,
letting night solve all night’s problems alone.


Permission to re-post the poem, from Human Dark with Sugar, has been granted by Copper Canyon Press.



  1. z dylan brennan | November 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    The moth bends no more than the flame it encircles
    The black man, pondering his own cellar, mingles
    Among the thousands of light bulbs he’s strewn
    Across the floor’s basement,
    Just like the miscellaneous orphan in Bangladesh,
    Crowded and overworked but in love with his wife
    And nine children — willing to work for less money
    If it means more time with them

    And while legs waken the mush in the gutter,
    Bandied eyes strop blouses and peal
    The most delightful fruit Jah could create,
    Which is, of course, counter-intuitive to the idea
    That men and brawn and power rule
    This catastrophe waiting to happen.

    But wait, there must be more for a man
    Like Da Vinci to have never wanted what his day
    Brought, or for a man like Joyce to capture
    The beauty of a woman’s orgasm.

    But then, a paraphrase is generally a poor substitute
    For any organized conception
    That one may fancy more
    Than the poem itself.

  2. Sharanya Manivannan | November 4, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Oh — moon, that motherfucker.

  3. glenise clelland | November 5, 2011 at 3:55 am

    Another Moon poem that sticks in my head-
    There was no lover
    only a spring moon on the rise
    and early frangipani blossoms dreaming in the night

    I was in love.
    My skin could feel the moon
    and all my senses took the dark
    to find its secrets.

    There was no lover
    just empty footsteps in the night
    and sleepy blossoms falling
    into the silence.
    by Mocco Wollert from “Love falls in Love with Love”

2 Pingbacks

  1. […] -flotsam (what the ever-loving fuck?) -tongues lapping (ugh) -The Moon (Lorin Stein wrote a nice post about this recently) -crescents (by extension) -daggers (perma-cliché) -honey + hyphen + anything […]

  2. […] Abdul-Jabbar refers to a Brenda Shaughnessy poem in order to illuminate his assertion. In “I’m Over the Moon,” Shaughnessy writes, “It’s like having a bad boyfriend in a good band,” […]

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