Poetry Shelf Theme Season: Eleven poems about the moon

The moon has shone in poems for centuries and I can’t see a time when it won’t. Aside from the beauty allure that transfixes you in the dead of night – for me there is the way the connective light shines down on us all – both transcendental and sublime. When I read a moon poem that I love, it feels like I am cupping the moon in the palm of my hand to carry all day. Moon poem bliss. So many moon poems to love. So hard to choose. As with all my themes, it is not so much poetry about the moon, but poetry with a moon presence.

I am grateful to all the poets and publishers who have and are supporting my ongoing season of themes.

Eleven poems about the moon

Last summer we were under water

for K.

and we asked what are you doing there, moon?

our bodies neck-deep in salt and rain

each crater is a sea you said & dived under

the sun before I could speak water rushing

over your skin the place where chocolate

ice cream had melted and dried there like a

newly formed freckle on the surface of

us and the islands crumpling apart softly

over sea caves somewhere opening

my mouth in to the waves to save you are

you are you are

Nina Mingya Powles

from Magnolia 木蘭, Seraph Press, 2020

Soon, Moon 

It’s not you, moon, it’s me:

the way I look to you as if

you’ll choose to be muse

then look back at my battered

corner-alley of a blue mood

and find only eye rhymes

for human-ugly and you:

lost hubcap, squashed yoghurt pot,

metal sewer lid; all the zeros

on the street numbers of the richest

most forbidding houses; the fierce interrogations

of their security lights and satellite disks; 

the white flowers like hung-head hoodies 

on the roadside gang of onion weed.

Even the pale, shucked hull

of mandarin peel dropped in the street

seems like eco-graffiti that cusses

we’re a pack of greedy moon-calves,

fancy apes with glitter-baubles, 

guzzlers at Earth’s thin, sweet milk

who can’t see our hungers

will turn her into your mirror, darkly.

Emma Neale

from Tender Machines, Otago University Press, 2015

Tapa Talk

I’m a shadow catcher

I walk and fly in worlds

between worlds

but you were born in

the light of a bright moon

when the doors of heaven

were open to the songs of stars

your lips are trochus shells

fully parted in sleep

your eyes are nets

that draw me in

to your arms

your Leo heart

is a starfish freshly

plucked from heaven

your familiar body

the midrib of a coconut leaf

adorned with pandanus blooms

your laughter

a banana pod

burst open

and right now

dawn crawls over you

like a centipede

at last I understand

you’re the translation

of an ancient text

and the tapa on the wall

is the gallery of motifs

I found in your sleeping form

that tapa could be you

lying next to me

breathing into the first light

and you, darl

could be the tapa

hanging on the wall

Serie Barford

from Tapa Talk, Huia Press, 2007

Moon

for Ruth

You tell me you are a moth drawn to the moon
and I see you, a rare white puriri
unable to rest in the perfect green
of your sisters. You rise
from the forest
wings lifting and sighing.
You are heavy with prescience
and you have only
a few nights.

Alison Wong

from Cup, Steele Roberts, 2006

From Above  

The twinkly stars disinterestedly  

staring back, it tickles your thinking,  

the sum of you, the multiplicated product  

of all your hysterical episodes, and function,  

fluctuated, fractal, of your moods and vacuities.  

The people you’ve wrung out your guts for  

like the sponge end of a squeegee, that’ve ticked  

and tocked through a month, three months,  

six months, a year of rinse cycles,  

the faces who’ve written their looks  

into your programming, all the undeletable,  

second-guessed significations, the gestures  

of their lips, their fingers’ commands,  

it leaves you spinning, dehydrating  

the evening to a dusty, distant simile.  

I feel like a moon, punched all over with  

old bruises, but whole, orbiting on,  

pressing on, whole.

Nick Ascroft

from Back with the Human Condition, Victoria University Press, 2016

Madrigal

The moon rose out of the sea

     and climbed above Mihiwaka.

          How terrible, lonely far off

             it seemed, how resolute and cold

in a vast nest of stars.

     I stood leaning on a gatepost

         listening to the mysterious wind

             bending the pines a long time

before I set off down the hill

     feeling like a stranger

          returning to the place

              where he was born.

And the moon came after me,

    sat on my shoulder

       and followed me inside.

            All night it lay glowing

in the bones of my body,

     a private pain, given over

        to everything; all night

             the moon glowed as a body glows

in a halo of moonlight,

    and in the half-light of dawn

      I heard the moon sing a madrigal

           for those who live alone.

Brian Turner

from Ancestors, John McIndoe, 1981, picked by Richard Langston

Moon

‘Look,’ I said,

‘there’s the bloodied moon

over Paekakariki.

She’s tilting crazily

(one ear lopped off),

skimming the bright sea,

colliding with the hill-side.

I am afraid of madness –

the moon worries me.’

‘All the best people

are mad,’ you said.

And I laughed, agreeing,

so we welcomed her as she

moved along the coast

towards where we lay,

warm, in our bed.

Meg Campbell

from The Way Back: Poems, Te Kotare Press, 1981

The night sky on any day in history

I want you to look into an oncoming night.
Is it a little green? Does it have the cool orange
beginnings of streetlights? Tip your head back
as someone with a nosebleed might.
Survey the lower sky. Are there chimneys
making mini city silhouettes? Satellite dishes,
their smooth, grey craters turned in one direction?

You might insist you hear a nightingale.
Might see, at a distance, the huge screen
advertising an upcoming concert by the Beach Boys.
You could spend your time watching trains pull
their strings of yellow windows along in lines.

Or you might come here, where I am
where I stand upon the rarely silent floor
looking up at the rectangle moon
of our neighbour’s window.

Kate Camp

from How to be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems, Victoria University Press, 2020

Gregorian

Will you have me count off the days in your calendar, like some kind of self-soothing tool? Have we all been sold the latest gadget, to take our focus away from what’s happening out there? Distracted from colours changing in the trees, the moon continuing her cycle above, and the ocean’s repetitive lull. Do you dream about the world ending, or worry yourself down to the quicks in your nail beds, devouring hoarded tins of peaches and complaining because you can’t get into Farro Foods for poshos — when most people have to queue to buy an overpriced bottle of milk and a loaf of white bread to feed their children? I don’t care if your fancy-arsed store didn’t have the brand of cereal you desired. No, I will not post social media diaries of daily activities (like you who never bothered before and kept us at a distance with your academic nonsense, avoiding the reality our communities were already fucked); the thesaurus that kept you safe now serves as a doorstop, your words have dried up, and you’re resorting to colloquialisms. I doubt you will ever have a sense of life as it is for the minorities (who are really the majorities if you look at the world’s pyramid charts on the distribution of wealth); most of us struggle week to week, day to day, to survive everything you have created, and I don’t need to use your learned words of ‘capitalism’ and ‘eco fascism’ to know what I’m on about — without those labels we are connected regardless, through tissue, blood and ether, going back to wherever it is that we came from, whenever it was the beginning, if there ever was one. A painful silence echoes through these unspoken things, I see you in your ‘bubble’ wittering on about the importance of connection; but have you checked on your elderly neighbours to see what they might need? Or are you inside, behind your locked doors and twitching bespoke drapes, waiting for something to arrive?

Iona Winter

The Woman in the Moon

I was dancing in the shadow of the moon

under dark trees strung with party lights; a band

played waltzes; I can still feel the warmth of your hand

on the small of my back

while my fingers curled round your neck,

knowing your pulse through my long red gloves.

I hoped we were dancing into love;

we’d turn under those lit trees forever.

My hair was piled high, we looked to a future

I thought.  If only I’d followed your eyes,

caught where they rested: that other light,

an ivory candlestick, skin so pale

drawing you in like a moth.  Of course you fell.

Looking back, I see now, the obvious clue

I was dancing in the shadow of the moon.

Janis Freegard

from Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011). 

Moon of love

Under the moon of love, I shimmy

on silver over waves, flirt with light,

hang with cloud, under the moon of love.

Under the cloud of the moon of love, rain

shower blessing my lunatic stroll.

In every way guided by stars, under

the moon cloud of love.

Shine on the man I am

in this moon, reflect on the heart

of my inner space. Show me the night

shadow my day, shine on the man

in the moon of love.

You marvellous moon, I’m making

all your promises. Luminous moon, promise

me, promise you moon of love.

Michael Giacon

from Fast Fibres 6 2019, Olivia Macassey pick

Nick Ascroft dangles from the Wellington skyline on his e-bike, kid in the child-seat, and a look in the eyes that says: surmountable. His most recent collection of poems is Moral Sloth (VUP 2019).

Serie Barford was born in Aotearoa to a German-Samoan mother and a Palagi father. She was the recipient of a 2018 Pasifika Residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Serie  promoted her collections Tapa Talk and Entangled Islands at the 2019 International Arsenal Book Festival in Kiev.  Her latest poetry collection, Sleeping With Stones, will be launched during Matariki, 2021.

Kate Camp’s most recent book is How to Be Happy Though Human: New and Selected Poems published by VUP in New Zealand, and House of Anansi Press in Canada.

Meg Campbell (1937-2007) was born in Palmerston North, and was educated at Carncot, Marsden School and Victoria University. In 1958 she married poet, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, and lived with him and his son in Pukerua Bay on the Kāpiti Coast. She worked in a number of libraries and a bookshop, and published six poetry collections.

Wellington-based Janis Freegard is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Reading the Signs (The Cuba Press), as well a novel, The Year of Falling (Mākaro Press). She was the inaugural Ema Saikō Poetry Fellow at New Zealand Pacific Studio and has previously won the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Prize and the Geometry/Open Book Poetry Prize. She grew up in the UK, South Africa and Australia before her family settled in Aotearoa when she was twelve.

Michael Giacon was born in Auckland and raised in a large Pakeha-Italian family. He was the NZ Poetry Society featured summer poet 2021, and his work has featured in the recent editions of Landfall and the New Zealand Poetry Yearbook. He is currently finalising a manuscript for publication.

Emma Neale is a writer and editor. Her most recent collection is To the Occupant (O. In 2020 she received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry.

Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington, currently living in London. She is the author of Magnolia 木蘭, a finalist in the Ockham Book Awards, a food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, and several poetry chapbooks and zines. Her debut essay collection, Small Bodies of Water, will be published in September 2021. 

Brian Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944. His debut collection Ladders of Rain (1978) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His writing includes biography, poetry, sports writing and journalism and has won many awards. Just This won the NZ Post Book Award for Poetry (2010). He was the Te Mata Poet Laureate (2003-2005) and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry in 2009. He lives in Central Otago.

Iona Winter (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin. Her hybrid work is widely published and anthologised in literary journals internationally. Iona creates work to be performed, relishing cross-modality collaboration, and holds a Master of Creative Writing. She has authored three collections, Gaps in the Light (2021), Te Hau Kāika(2019), and then the wind came (2018). Skilled at giving voice to difficult topics, she often draws on her deep connection to land, place and whenua.

Alison Wong is the coeditor of the first anthology of creative writing by Asian New Zealanders. A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand (AUP, 2021) will be launched at the Auckland Writers Festival on 15 May and at Unity Books Wellington on 27 May 6 pm. There will also be events at the Napier and Dunedin public libraries on 3 and 10 June respectively. Alison’s novel, As the Earth Turns Silver (Penguin/Picador, 2009) won the NZ Post Book Award for fiction and her poetry collection Cup (Steele Roberts, 2006), which includes ‘Moon’, was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Award for best first book of poetry. She was a poetry judge at the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

Ten poems about clouds

Twelve poems about ice

Ten poems about dreaming

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