Poem

Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon (A Story for Children)

Dan Chiasson

1. 
If I look to the opposite shore and greet myself there, 
if I call out to myself come here 
and watch myself laboriously construct from shore-things 
a boat, and watch myself over the waters come rowing, 
but, crossing the midpoint between shores, 
out in the middle of the colorless lake, 
no longer approaching, no longer coming closer, 
disappear, where am I now, has my boat capsized? 

2. 
Infinite capacity for love in the smallest detail; 
infinite suffering in the innermost reality; 
large mind in even the dumbest, mutest object; 
destiny in an object that stands still; 
heart in the middle of the gray, motionless water; 
the largest sadness in the world in a groaning buoy; 
in a buoy and the bird overhead, huge sadness, 
and yet I hop from place to place as though I’m weightless. 

3. 
When I picture my father I see the surface of the moon, 
plains of moon-stuff chalk-dust papers shredded 
by a paper shredder, snowbanks of shredded paper, 
nobody to organize it all, no way to “moralize the day 
out of its aimlessness,” nobody with a Shop-Vac handy 
slowly to turn the whiteness into pattern and form, 
revealing, as a chisel reveals in the marble, 
a figure, a woman’s figure, an expression of bliss— 

4. 
now that that big nonentity the moon is in my mind 
the clichés for representing Earth are hereby banished— 
a hundred open-ended poems, abrupt transitions, high tones 
grating against the low, unsorted experience; 
sex beside the holy man defiled by sex, 
the pig pile of ways you can get high, right there 
beside the dawn and how you badly want to kill yourself, 
the fleer, the road that unravels like a banner before him— 

5. 
and the child’s attention fixed upon the animal book, 
and all the animals in the book intent upon dinner 
or eyeing some harbinger cloud forever, permanently 
dejected because some little stone turned their child 
to stone, weeping big mule or owl tears as though 
the child never turned the page, the sun never shone 
again bringing larkspurs, gentian, and the mule-boy 
reunited with mule mommy and daddy just in time to end, 

6. 
but the mule on page four will always be sad, the owl 
overhead will always mourn for the mule in his sadness, 
nobody will ever bring news of page eighteen when mule-boy 
returns from the dead, and the child reading the book 
will always preside like a sinister god over these animals, 
always dipping in and out of their moods like a snacker, 
a little sadness to tide you over until suppertime, 
a little elegiac owl, some time at the grief picnic . . . 

7. 
He has lived on the moon for now thirty years, 
part of an old guild, virtually a decoration, 
but I am proud of him as was his master-keeper proud 
of him, this noble, endless line of moonkeepers 
who hang the light that lights the moon and take it down 
every morning, meaning that it is morning, get up, 
that’s not a pie plate over there in the east, 
sleepyheads, lovers climb down off of your beloveds; 

8. 
as the child is to the book, a watcher, a dabbler, 
so he is, I think, to my own life, that he may know 
or not (his being, in the sky, in a position 
that looked at in a certain light affords omniscience 
but looked at in another light is blindness pure); 
but since he lights and snuffs the lantern 
on the moon, I have the illusion of his being nearby, 
not in the photonegative of life, snowbanks and cold, 

9. 
no flowers ever, hardly a bird, nobody to say to you, 
want a lick of this? Or here, I have an extra one, 
or you can take more and nothing bad will happen, 
or I like it a little more than that, or send me, 
won’t you, one of your new poems, I’d like to have that, 
and never the whispered request, there, tha-a-a-a-at’s it, 
r-r-r-right there, and so why would I go to the anti-Earth 
not that he asked, but if he did, why would I ever go 

10. 
stay with him on that windswept sand-planet, 
a house here, a house there, no tree, no sod, nothing 
not buried in sand, a few moon-plums and moon-peas 
the city people gather and preserve in ceramic jars, 
and schooners come from Boston to gather the sand 
for masonry suppliers back in the city, but sand 
sweeps in and fills the deep furrows their shovels leave 
and the ugly moon jays buzz above like houseflies; 

11. 
and here is the page where the man, the son 
of the man who keeps the moon, has fallen asleep; 
we are to understand those words he spoke just now 
as things said on the verge of sleep, and where, 
under the illustration of this man, his words were 
there is now only the letter z repeated eleven times; 
now look, what are those toys and books, what is 
that little bed, that moon mobile above the bed; 

12. 
and now we turn the page the background changes; the man 
is now a boy; he is asleep on the lip of a crater; stars, 
real stars, replace the paper stars of his mobile; 
though we resist the easy transformation from man to child, 
nevertheless, something in the picture is poignant; 
this small act of turning the page has changed a person, 
he has forgotten, since he is sleeping and he is a child, 
the very existence of hard-up, rummaged bathroom stalls; 

13. 
what could be more beautiful than this, thinks the boy; 
I’ve lost the Earth entirely, my head is no longer dense 
with somebody else’s voice speaking through me 
like a sock puppet or large-size microphone contraption, 
now my mind is as serene and empty as the moon’s surface; 
when I open my mouth to speak no sound comes out; 
I am like a home movie from the 1960s, vividly alive but 
quiet, since the right technology hasn’t been invented yet; 

14. 
bear with me while I try to convey what I want to convey: 
my father’s distance and yet the tendency of distant things 
to become central; my tidelike ups and downs, up-downs 
and down-ups and the influence of a superstellar body 
upon me; my “poetry,” as I hazard to call these writings; 
bear with me because this movie, though vividly a record 
of somebody saying something, has no sound of its own, 
which means I might as well not have a mouth. 

15. 
Man-boy on his inner journey meets his father 
distant, perhaps an artist, perhaps just an asshole, 
climbing a ladder to the lamppost where the moon hangs; 
looks up in pride to see his father, artist or asshole, 
so absorbed in a task, so evidently free and confident, 
not sitting around looking bored at his son’s every move, 
really himself, like an acrobat in mid-somersault, 
who wouldn’t admire an acrobat-artist doing his thing? 

16. 
Beauty cannot be gainsaid no matter how sarcastic we are: 
the osier braided into a basket used to carry fish, 
the fish surrounded by ripe plums on a wooden platter; 
the knife gleaming as we see the flesh of the fish 
tugged effortlessly apart from the fish’s spine; 
the spoonful of honeyed water with which to dress 
the small piece of fish in the middle of our white plate; 
wine in a glass, the person next to us gossiping; 

17. 
or this: “Two men in a skiff, whom we passed hereabouts, 
floating buoyantly amid the reflections of the trees, like 
a feather in midair, or a leaf that is wafted gently 
from its twig to the water without turning over, 
seemed still in their element, and to have very delicately 
availed themselves of the natural laws. Their floating 
served to ennoble in our eyes the art of navigation: 
as birds fly and fishes swim, so these men sailed.” 

18. 
Or this: “If there is nothing new on the earth, still 
the traveler always has a new resource in the skies. 
They are constantly turning a new page to view. 
The wind sets the types on this blue ground, and 
the inquiring may always read a new truth there. 
There are things there written with such fine 
and subtle tinctures, paler than the juice of limes . . . 
Only the chemistry of night reveals them.” 

19. 
The winterberry by the road is not red at midnight. 
Everyone dies every night and wakes up a new person. 
If you want a mystery, study what you did yesterday. 
My genome has its own ideas in store for me. 
A cloud covered the heavens and now the constellation 
archer, target, isn’t visible at all. These metaphors 
add up to one conclusion: I own a thirsty horse 
and yet I use his trough as our centerpiece. 

20. 
In our inattention, the child has come close to finishing 
The Moonkeeper’s Son, and learned how a grown man yearns 
to go back to his time, beside his father, on the moon, 
and dreams he is back there in childhood, which is 
a kind of moon (this point the author intends), though mine 
had a lot more pewter figurines of Christ strewn around it 
than the moon, at least as it is classically represented, 
would; a kind of moon, and fathers come and go, don’t they, 

21. 
the way the moon waxes and wanes (the author intends this), 
but what the author does not intend is the following point: 
the moon orbits the earth; it heads out in a straight line 
but despite itself, despite its best attempts, cants 
a little (feel it?) to the right, like a boat without 
the starboard oar, and soon its straight-line ambitions 
pass the point where they began, as indeed they must 
if counteracted by a force designed to keep them close— 

22. 
the fact of it, the fact that such a force exists: 
that is the force. Your straight line loops back 
and over and over the comedy of your life would be 
the flight, the return, the child sitting in the middle 
lassoing you through orbit, over and over; this lesson 
is not the author’s intention, nor is it mine; 
but my intentions cannot be taken into account in this case 
since I am a sketch on paper of a person speaking, 

23. 
lines drawn to resemble a person age thirty-six years three months, 
name Chiasson, Dan, mind tracked in real time 
by a satellite whose sophisticated gauges measure 
not merely geologic disturbances in the earth’s surface 
but also, it must be granted, meaning, as in what 
did I mean by lasso back there or why in the world 
in a poem about my childhood I would include 
these stray, albeit gorgeous, perceptions of Thoreau? 

24. 
We’re all of us central; we’re all of us the subject 
of interstellar scrutiny; everybody’s readout shows 
a small volcano astraddle the middle of middle island; 
you’re tracked by this satellite that sees the faults 
that crack the crust and cause the coup; you have two eyes, 
don’t you? You own two hands that hold the pages close 
to see what’s written even “in fine and subtle tinctures”? 
Would you describe this as a prison or a country club? 

25. 
This mouth is being erased before your eyes. Good-bye. 
These eyes are being erased before your eyes. Good-bye. 
No chin anymore. No nose anymore. These cheeks are gone. 
The outline of my head, my wild Dan white-man afro, gone. 
Without a head you do not have a mind. Without a mind 
even the little confidences, sotto voce, dry up. 
Now the eraser passes over my limbs, and now 
the ground I rested on, the cartoon tree, all gone. 

26. “Hide Thy Life” 
Hide thy life, sayeth the tablet, hide thy life; 
mind not the robin in the buddleia; 
mind not the forsythia aflame; 
mind not the first bloodroot, 
the mayflower, mind not; 
you are the single phony thing 
outdoors today; where did you find that mind? 
Put that mind right back where you found it. 

27. 
Sweethearted mules, living in a village near kind chickens, 
constable pigs, an elderly neighbor donkey couple, 
mules, it is winter, but quit your weeping, your thrashing 
at your shirts, your pacing up and down the floor; 
mule-child, your angel, is not dead; on page four 
he got changed into a rock, a drawing of a rock; 
But, lo, I bring news of page eighteen: you three 
will reunite, all grief erased. A family: a sketch of joy. 

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