Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Moon Is...

V. The Encyclopaedia

"If I could set the moon upon
This table," said my friend,
"Among the standard poets
And brochures without end,
And noble prints of old Japan,
How empty they would seem,
By that encyclopaedia
Of whim and glittering dream."

~Vachel Lindsay
from The Congo and Other Poems

One of my absolute favorite poets is Vachel Lindsay who wrote over thirty poems about the moon. Many of them have titles like "What the Coal-Heaver Said" or "What the Rattlesnake Said" and they are each an answer to the question, "What is the moon?" For the coal-heaver, the moon is the open door of a giant furnace. For the rattlesnake, it is a groundhog. To the old horse in the city, the moon is a heap of corn, which grows and grows. One of these days, says the horse, he's going to break down his stable door and run to the corn and eat it up.

I've been thinking about the moon ever since seeing the lunar eclipse last night. It was quite beautiful. The sky was covered in a fine gauzy haze which didn't cover up the moon, so I could plainly see the soft gray shadow of the earth slowly enveloping the white orb. I called my family, and told them to go outside and look at it--they didn't even know about the eclipse. I'm surprised my dad didn't know, because he used to have a telescope. When we were kids he'd give us astronomy lessons, gathered around the telescope. The best part was when he'd use the telescope to project an enlarged image of the full moon onto his shirt. You could see all the craters and everything. Too bad he doesn't have the telescope anymore, or he could have seen the rings of Saturn, which appeared next to the moon, the only other celestial body bright enough to pierce the cloudy haze of the New York sky.

My mother knew about the eclipse, because when I called she was actually outside in her garden planting peas. Yes, she plants peas by moonlight--it is her custom to plant peas by the light of the February full moon. Last night she had gone out to plant them, and was busy at work when she happened to glance up at the sky. The eclipse had begun, so the moon didn't look full anymore, and at first she couldn't figure out what was going on. But then I called and my dad and sister came running out of the house to look at the moon, and they all watched the spectacle together. She was worried that her peas wouldn't get the benefit of full-moon planting, since the full moon was disturbed, but I told her that the eclipse is probably doubly beneficial to pea-seeds, and that her crop will most likely be the best ever this year.

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