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.