Poem of the Week | March 12, 2018

This week, we are proud to present a new poem by Elizabeth Cantwell. Cantwell is a poet and high school teacher living in Claremont, California. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of journals, including Hobart, The Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, and PANK. Her first book of poems, Nights I Let The Tiger Get You (Black Lawrence Press), was a finalist for the 2012 Hudson Prize; she is also the author of a chapbook, Premonitions (Grey Book Press).

Something Not Empty

I know people who get great anxiety imagining
what it would be like to float through space,
real space, untethered, inside of nothing, just
totally fucked. Like the Sandra Bullock movie,
the shot of the small white body and the
small white shocked face flying rather than
floating out into empty emptiness. When my
students gave a presentation to the class
describing how the Soviet Union wanted to
blow up the moon, I thought they were joking,
I even laughed. Why would you want to shoot
nukes at the moon
, I said, and then, Sorry, keep
. But it wasn’t a joke. I read about it later,
one of those articles everyone passed around
online, a good read, an examination of what seems
to be a common paranoia about the moon,
that it could attack us somehow, that it’s a
Nazi plot, that it doesn’t give a shit about us,
that it has been trying with its moon face
and its moon pulses and its moon mouth
to make us crazy since the day we arrived here,
coming of course, from a myriad of other planets,
stars, galaxies, meteors, particles formed from dust
coming off of collisions–I never really understood
that, but Carl Sagan says it somewhere: we came
here travelers from the void, aliens, all of us, down
to the microbes cleaning our eyelashes. There
is no shape to space except our own slight
bodies. The ones we wield against each
other, as if we were even important enough
to be evil. As if the eye itself wasn’t a sphere
in the night. What is the grass, anyway, I said
out loud to no one, ripping it right out of
the ground, shooting it into orbit, waiting
for its small green face to register the fear.
But all I could see was a light green relief,
a sense of moving quickly and at last towards
something not empty but chock full of blood.

Author’s Note:

This poem really did start during a 10th-grade student presentation—I’d had the students create mini “graphic novels” focusing on various aspects of American life in the 1950s and 60s, and a group of my sophomore girls had a whole plot line about the Soviet Union trying to blow up the moon. I thought it seemed like something they’d made up to enhance the stakes of their story, but I discovered it was actually a real thing. The more I read, the more I fell down the rabbit hole of moon conspiracies, moon theories, irrational moon logic… I’ve often sworn up and down that I’ll never be one of those poets who writes a poem about the moon (god forbid!), but this angry, disorienting, anxiety-cratered moonscape just felt inevitable and rich and, well, scary.