A Saturday Afternoon on the Moon

July 20, 2009

1.

Again with the tunnel.

It’s longer now.

I don’t know why. It’s been weeks since we cleared

The fence—but to get round that fucker with

The ugly mask, his gargoyle’s face still

Eluding doubt, escaping certainty…?

No way, my friend.

2.

Real prisons

Imprison minds, as well as bodies, right?

And so today when our film begins, the

Action will start behind a barbed wire fence:

The tents, a tin roof, dirt, an opening

On creation that’s worthy of Monument

Valley, which is not where we are…

The camera pans across the road and gawks

At prisoners in prison uniforms—

You’d have to be stupid not to know about

The tunnel…

3.

…and how each night they shift their beds about

To skinny down a spider hole and dig—

Each handing each a handful of dirt back

Along the tunnel route, and up and out—

And here’s the clever part:  especially sewn seams

Which line the legs, inside the pants, and lets

Us scatter the sandy dirt, like gods in golden

Slippers, like Cinderella going to

The ball, like the invisible foot soldiers

We think we are, the ants in service to

A higher power, a revolution…

4.

But you’ve seen

This movie, haven’t you? You know how it

Plays out, again and tomorrow again:

A Saturday afternoon on the moon,

Perhaps, or a tour of the Tuesday lightning, or

How Plato’s allegory is found in

A painting Hopper called New York Movie:

Three thousand years in a bored woman who’s

Seen this movie before—like, a thousand times—

And wants a real escape: That’s another nice mess

You’ve gotten me into, she thinks, for it

Could be Laurel and Hardy, The Flying Deuces,

On the screen up there—simulacra, larger than life,

Of the comedy of life…

5.

But it’s not, is it?

It’s 1939 and they’re showing

The Hunchback of Notre Dame—and look!

She can’t stand to look, that woman:

(Your golden hair Marguerite

Your ashen hair Shulamith)

Is Death a master from Germany? Think

It through. Quasimodo reigns as the King

Of Fools; petite Marguerite has a brother in Bonn,

Two sisters in Bavaria, grandparents,

Cousins, two of them doctors, right in Berlin,

And not a word. She is alone in this

Strange town, in a posh the-ate-ter, watching

A gypsy woman get ‘sanctuary’

Inside a church, which is about as real

As a trip to the moon, or our escape

From that Stalag whatever-it-was.

So go ahead, read Death Fugue now, it too

Is part of Plato’s cave, our escape from

The sun. You think it helped anyone?

6.

We chant as we dig—O, softly—they’ll hear:

The ugliest face gets the crown, and wins

The gargoyles’ clothes: his tie, his hat, his mask,

And his stone teeth from the stone head, the clothes

With pigeon shit crapped on the jacket, like

A merit badge the Boy Scouts give out for

You’re being in the wrong place at the wrong

Time. We shovel a grave in the air there.

7.

Remember how The Hunchback ends: true love

For Esmeralda. Quasimodo in

In tears, in the choirs of Notre Dame,

A crowd of gargoyles sing music that he

Can’t hear: Why—he asks and answers—was I

Not made of stone like these?

Why, indeed,

Marguerite?

(Your ashen hair Shulamith)

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4 Responses to “A Saturday Afternoon on the Moon”


  1. I really like this, I especially like the use of Todesfugue and the way that it’s juxtaposed with the movie stuff. So many of us make a mess of alluding/quoting Celan and I think you’ve done it appropriately and to good ‘effect’. I also think the first line is brilliant. Is this the second or the third draft that you’ve posted or am I hallucinating?

  2. extrasimile Says:

    Thank you, John. I know you have strong opinions on poetry, and are far better read than I will ever be, so I take this as a complement indeed. I was struck by the interesting confluence in 1939 of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hopper’s New York Movie and that Hunchback could be on the screen the day of the painting—though it could have been the Laurel and Hardy—and how even the most perceptive could not see into the future sitting in that theater that day, especially on the micro level. One might have grasped the political ramifications of the situation in Europe…but where is Shulamith? She writes every month. She’s disappeared off the face of the earth. Anyway, I made up a little story.
    Todesfugue/ Death Fugue: I don’t know German, but it has to be a different poem in English. One imagines Celan writing in the language of the ‘meister’. The translation I linked to is interesting, because it lets the German leak back in to the text. And of course I had reservations about borrowing from one of the great poems, but… I guess what I see myself doing here is using the words as little vehicles to explore with and experiment with, just let them whisper in my ear a little, suggest something…and great poetry does do that, doesn’t it? Bottom line: I’m just messing around here, but I’m glad you liked this particular mess.
    This is the only version I’ve put on the web.


  3. Isn’t ‘just messing around’ what we all should be doing? I’m coming to realise that the best stuff comes from a mixture of improvisation and a kind of purposeful playfulness. My problem at the moment is allowing my ear to be sufficiently open to the surprising stuff that comes my way.
    With regard to the other versions, I thought I’d seen one with more extensive allusions to Hollywood- this must have been wishful thinking on my part.

  4. Extenze Says:

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.


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