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A Poem by Colm Tóibín: ‘Mysterium Lunae’

Last night  
I saw that the moon
Was empty in the sky.

The stars around did
What they do.
They are

Millions of miles
Away,  
Or millions of years,

And are totally exhausted.
But the moon is blank,
Just a space to show

Where it might have
Been. We will tell
Whoever will attend

That the moon used to catch  
Light from the sun
And waxed and waned:

Full, sickle, half-
Moon. And the songs:
“Blue Moon,” “Song to the Moon”

(From Rusalka),
“Moon River,” The Dark
Side of the Moon,

The Moon and the Melodies.
It was all the rage, once,
The moon.

It was a large step,
A sad step,
For mankind.

Soon, the sun will run
Out of hydrogen
And it will all

Be gone.
The disappearance
Of the moon

Is just the start.
I am working day and night
On my book,

Knowing it will
Be the final word
On the matter.

I will compose,
With aid from scientists,
A description in concise

Prose, of the time before the bang,
The gorgeous vacancy,
The pre-astral soup,

Gravity dancing like
A herring
On the griddle—oh,

And the sly almostness
Of atoms and particles,
And how long a neutron

Took to be certain
That it was not a proton,
And the war

Between infinity and
Eternity that would have  
Gone on forever

Had the world,
Oozing immanence,
Not begun to roll,

With its built-in
Obsolescence,
Its sell-by date,

Its oomph, its ooh-la-la,
Its everything that
Is the case.

It is calm here
Now. Waves have  
Stopped, of course.

The sea has settled
Down; soon it will  
Be a flyover state.

There is
Nothing to compel
Its tides.

At gatherings, they read
Matthew Arnold’s poem
And marvel

At the lines about the
Sea being calm tonight.
What else is there?

But it wasn’t always calm.
I can swear to that.
I remember

Redondo Beach
And the waves high
And the sun

Going down
Over the horizon.
Strange, I have

No memory of the moon.
But it must have been there
Somewhere.

But, no matter what, you can
Look all you want—
The moon is in the past,

Like analogue,
Or the Western Seaboard,
Or the library at Alexandria,

Or sic transit gloria
Mundi, a lovely
Old saying

Long eclipsed
By more fashionable
Tongues that yet are

Speechless at
The vacancy
In the night sky.

They are
Howling at the
Thing not there,

That we want back
Now, or at least
Soon.



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