It became a joke in workshop. How much I wrote about the moon. Metaphor after metaphor, every line somehow sounded better when I worked the moon in: Moon as a _____. Moon as a _____. It felt like a reflex to fill in this blank. It became a comfort, a kind of lullaby. When no other image came to mind, these moons bloomed in the looming dark. It was a trick I could pull with my eyes closed, as they say. Try as I might to confine the obsession to the odd musings in my journal, it spilled over onto enough of the work I brought to class to merit one of my professors eventually—unforgettably—exclaiming, “Cecilia. No more moons.” He said it with a smile on his face. I smiled back.
There is so much to be said about our obsessions. Or rather, much they could themselves disclose about us. After the ban on my moons—so to speak—I began to eyeball any word that floated up to the surface more frequently than others in the poems of my peers:
Milk is your moon, I helpfully pointed out to a fellow classmate.
I offered them like fortunes told: Bird yours. Field yours. Sugar yours.
Not out of bitterness, but bemusement. I began to delight in the discovery of a word over and over again. To make a game of it. First as a student of writing and later as a teacher. I circled them on the work turned in to my workshop before handing it back, these words that become our familiars. Our security blankets. Faithful little shadows that follow close behind or trot along beside. Words that never fail us when so many other words seem to.
And besides . . .
If the moon wasn’t good enough to be overplayed in our poems, surely nothing was.
The year I graduated, I got the moon tattooed behind my ear. A small thing, and an impromptu decision (as many of my tattoos are). In some ways, I was putting her away—a childish plaything. In others, I was ensuring she would always be with me. Though to be honest, I still forget she’s there until someone points her out and asks what she means. “Nothing,” I might smile. Or I might offer little more than, “I’m a poet . . .” which seems to appease folks as explanation enough. “I see . . .” they smile back, or frown, knowing nothing more than they did before, but perhaps they walk away feeling somehow fuller.
Poetry does that. As does noticing the moon when and where you least expect to.
On a particularly lonesome night, and in one of the few fits of prose in my journal, I wrote: “I howled at the moon tonight. Slow, mournful howls. I’m a frequent howler. Howling is the opposite of thinking. It is pure instinct. It is the long note of a drawn-out no-thought. Try it sometime. Go outside. Draw breath. And just howl. The sound of your own voice will startle you. You won’t know that’s what you had in you all along. We thinkers are afraid of our own bodies. But there’s no such thing as shame in the wild.”
I lost my grandmother less than a year ago. She was lowered into the ground on Christmas Eve. “Noche Buena,” we say in Spanish. More magical than Christmas morning. I was in Paris, had committed the holidays to my lover and his family on the coast of France. But I spent most of the week hanging half out of a high window, blowing smoke over the tin blue rooftops, watching it mingle with the smoke from the stone chimneys, and gazing skyward. I had lost my grandfather too, earlier in the year, and there were two stars that seemed especially animated those cold evenings. As though reunited, I thought. And over those stars, the moon. At least once, I closed my eyes and let out what started as a whimper. Then a long whine. Then a climbing howl. The rooftops muffled the sound from the sleeping town beneath but reflected it upwards.
I’ve made a home of Paris, though I am still fitful for lack of a detailed night sky. The city of light, coy as she is, hides the moon like an earring behind coiffed black hair, or like a coin tucked up the sleeve of a magician’s tuxedo. For a spectacle, the Parisians look to their tower, which twinkles every hour on the hour. But the poets still search the sky, like a nervous tic. And, when lucky, they are gifted with that blown out Parisian moon.
There are theories I like to ascribe to, to sometimes regale my students or even strangers with, about how poetry itself evolved from moon worship. Fanciful as it may seem, it is difficult to deny how many of the earliest poems—relics—of recorded history, were directed at the sun or the moon. Chants. Hymns. Spells. The suit-and-tie side of poetry—that which would call itself academic and pretend that poetry belongs to an elite class of the educated and edified—tends to shun the mystical, even though the mystical may very well be the sheen that sets poetry apart from the other arts. May very well be, if you choose to believe it, what poetry itself first took root in. The mystical is what animates: Without it, the moon is just a sizable stone. Poetry, just words getting in the way of a deeper way of knowing. It is all too common to be at least a little ashamed of our beginnings, and all too difficult—in times like these—to believe that women were once freely given power rather than regularly having it taken away. That women were believed to be the sole creators of human life and were worshiped accordingly. That women were considered to be at the peak of their creative powers while on their “moon cycle,” and that the blood was sacred. That we covered our hands in the earliest pigments and painted the earliest caves. That we were the earliest healers, priests, visionaries. That even the earliest Christians believed in a Goddess compliment to God, that the Holy Spirit was first portrayed as female, and that Eve herself might have been a shaman of sorts, eating the prohibited plants and enjoying the visions which she later shared with Adam.
It is not that so much has changed. It is that so much has been forgotten. Erased. Kept out of reach like fruit in the garden. Knowledge. But it is ripe for the plucking, and it burns inside of every woman. The power she has been denied and that she is perhaps—having been taught to do so—denying herself. We have been dominated by patriarchal societies and states of mind for so long, it is difficult to remember a world that was any other way. But almost as though she were inviting us to remember, Diane di Prima begins her long poem “Loba” (hailed as the female counterpart to fellow beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”) with an invocation: “O lost moon sisters / crescent in hair, sea underfoot do you wander . . .”
Indeed, we are still wandering. But before there was fire, before any candle kept us company, we wandered by moonlight. Because the moon never represented the dark.
Like poetry, it represents the light in the dark.
Nine Ways of Looking at the Moon
i. Where the heart of the sky would be
we find the mother of all bones.
There is some meat on her yet—
This is what the wolves know.
ii. No man is as gentle as the sky.
So white, that boutonniere pinned
to the lapel of his most formal suit.
iii. While there is but one tooth
there is much laughter to be had.
iv. The throat of a toad bulges as it fills with song.
v. White fox curled up in a mound of soot.
It is only the hounds that dream of the chase.
vi. Fat pearl on the dark tongue of a clam.
vii. God has misplaced his glass eye.
But there it is—ghosting the sky.
viii. The lamb looks smallest on the altar.
ix. All birds go to worship inside a cathedral
white and round as the belly of a greater bird.
Bat (in Spring)
Night has made a nest from its own
dark feathers, and the birds are telling
each other their sordid dreams. The
sunlight has spent all day bounding
back and forth from the windows like
a dog waiting for its master to open the
door, but has quieted down now. Has
returned to its chambers underground.
The stars swarm like locust, leave the
sky looking like an ill-managed grave-
yard. But they tell me the sun will tidy
it tomorrow. There are roots swollen
with rain that seek shelter from the
pitiless, hen-picked world up above.
The bees tell me there is fruit kicking
inside of the heaviest flower buds, and
the owls tell me there are moths inside
of light bulbs, spinning light into gold.
But who can tell me what blooms? Who
can tell me when? And who can tell me
if this is the pale season—the one that
crawled out of the mouth of the moon?
CECILIA LLOMPART was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Florida. Her debut poetry collection is The Wingless. She is the recipient of two awards from the Academy of American Poets, a fellowship from The Dickinson House, was a finalist for The Field Office agency’s 2016 Postcard Prize in poetry, as well as a finalist for the 2016 Tomaž Šalamun Prize given by Verse. In 2015, she founded the New Wanderers, a nomadic poetry collective that sponsors poets on long-term travel projects. She currently lives in Paris.