Wednesday, February 20, 2008

lenten journal: song about the moon

The path from the restaurant to my car leads me across the heart of Duke’s West Campus five nights a week. Most of the time, not too many folks are out walking when I am, but tonight the Quad was rather well populated with students all standing and facing in the same direction and staring up into the sky. My first thought was they were waiting to see if the Pentagon was going to be able to shoot down its own spy satellite before it fell to earth. I finally asked a girl and guy who were standing near to the sidewalk.

“It’s a lunar eclipse,” she answered, “but it’s behind the cloud now.”

I had no idea that was even happening today. My NPR time gave me nothing but stuff about Castro and the primaries – at least those were the stories I got to hear during prep time. But as I kept walking and trying to look up to see if the clouds might part, I thought of Psalm 8:

I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers,
at the moon and the stars you set firm -
what are human beings that you spare a thought for them?
When I sat down to write tonight, I still had the moon on my mind. Ella came in and barked to be taken outside one last time before she went to bed and we stood out under what was by then a clear sky and a moon free of the shadow.

And I started thinking about songs. While Ella trotted in the dark carrying a pine cone in her mouth, I sang softly,
I’m being followed by a moonshadow
moonshadow, moonshadow
leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
moonshadow, moonshadow
My favorite part is the bridge:
will it take long to find me
I asked the faithful light
will it take long to find me
and are you gonna stay the night
Italo Calvino has a wonderful short story called, “The Distance of the Moon” (in Cosmicomics) in which he describes the time near the beginning of human history when the moon was close enough to touch. At high tide, people could reach the moon by ladder; they would visit and then get back before the tide went back out. The natural flow of the universe was to expand, so each night the distance became a little greater, as did the risk of climbing to the moon, until finally it was no longer in reach.

Perhaps we keep singing because we can’t get there so easily. And so Shawn Colvin sings (with Ernie)
So if I should visit the moon
Well, I'll dance on a moonbeam and then
I will make a wish on a star
And I'll wish I was home once again
Though I'd like to look down at the earth from above
I would miss all the places and people I love
So although I may go I'll be coming home soon
'Cause I don't want to live on the moon
No, I don't want to live on the moon
There are probably enough moon songs to line the lyrics end to end and reach the cold hearted orb that rules the night, but I think my favorite is Paul Simon’s “Song About the Moon” (from my favorite Paul Simon record, Hearts and Bones):
If you want to write a song about the moon
Walk along the craters in the afternoon
When the shadows are deep
And the light is alien
And gravity leaps like a knife off the pavement
And you want to write a song about the moon
You want to write a spiritual tune
Then nah nah nah
Presto
Song about the moon

If you want to write a song about the heart
Think about the moon before you start
Because the heart will howl
Like a dog in the moonlight
And the heart can explode
Like a pistol on a June night
So if you want to write a song about the heart
And its ever-longing for a counterpart
Write a song about the moon
The laughing boy
He laughed so hard
He fell down from his place
The laughing girl
She laughed so hard
The tears rolled down her face

Hey Songwriter
If you want to write a song about
A face
Think about a photograph
That you really can’t remember
But you can’t erase
Wash your hands in dreams and lightning
Cut off your hair
And whatever is frightening
If you want to write a song
About a face
If you want to write a song about
The human race
Write a song about the moon
If you want to write a song about the moon
You want to write a spiritual tune
Then do it
Write a song about the moon
Tonight was a good night at work. We were busy again – which is great news – and everyone did well. I reworked the dish the critic had maligned and it was better, too. As hard as I worked today, I came out into the night somewhat energized. Maybe the moon’s game of hide and seek and the folks staring together up into the clouds and stars was contagious. Maybe we were all a little bit washed in dreams and lightning. What I came to tell is the clouds passed and our shadow left the moon unscathed. I know because it didn’t take long to find me and send a shadow of its own while Ella searched for pine cones in its soft glow.



Peace,
Milton

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Milton,
My son, John, and I waited patiently for the moon to appear, but, alas, the clouds were plentiful and the view obscured. As it turns out, it was the waiting together that made the evening memorable. Thanks for your nice piece.
Bill

Anonymous said...

I stood at my door looking up at the sky for about an hour while my brother and I talked on the phone about how cool it is to be looking at the same sky from different places.

Moonshadow is one of my favorite songs. It always reminds me of one of my best long time friends.

Peace, Molly

Joy said...

I'm sensing an illumination of a new life perspective, courtesy of a new place to call home.
Are you, too, emerging from shadows?
You've been sounding satisfied and content.
And it sounds wonderful.
Blessings to you and Ginger...

Sarah's Biblioteca said...

I love reading your blog. I got to you through RLP and appreciate your political perspective, your taste in music, and poetry and your seemingly genuine faith. Thank you for your writing.