Poetry / Karen An-hwei Lee
:: Dear Millennium, Jade Rabbit on the Far Side of the Moon ::
We sent a rover called Jade Rabbit to the far side of our moon, the other side of hiddenness as it faces away from this world, where cotton seeds sprouted at first, but don’t expect the moon to change into fresh cotton fields soon, thanks to airlessness— minus subzero in microgravity, absolutely freezing up there. The spacecraft which carried the rover was named for a lady who drank the elixir of immortality and floated to the moon. She was the same lady who married the archer who shot nine of the ten suns scorching the earth. As a little girl, I wondered if the lady was bored out of her wits from sitting on the moon, a blanched, cold place without almond cakes or green cheese. The moon is not made of jade, either. Of course, you can’t eat jade, but it is soothing to hold. Meanwhile, the moon’s far side lies in utter darkness due to tidal locking, not what it sounds— actually the moon’s orbit and its rotation are not about oceans the way we feel the ebb and flow of their familiar nocturnes. The darkness is more about not knowing what else is there. It is also not quite the opposite of what we do see, however. Don’t expect that the moon will turn into cotton fields soon. It is not made of mutton fat. Neither cassia trees nor rabbits dwell there. On the far side, we find what we already know— that seeds cannot survive in such weather, and sadly, we get no closer to knowing God in doing so, not even in reaching out to graze the edges of the farthest stars, dear millennium, when God is shooting valentines of love into jaded hearts where strings hold our atoms of flesh together, for now.
:: Dear Millennium, on the Methuselah Star ::
The meteor shower, a famous one, arrives tonight. To see it, we must drive a hundred miles east to Joshua Tree, the high desert. The bright Perseids— How could we possibly make it in time, crossing this long, clandestine distance to the inland empire? Past the drought-blighted avocado and lemon groves, on cracked, desolate freeways— A pastor once described our path towards eternity as a long obedience in the same direction. Sounds mundane. Even so, I love this austere method of sameness while night gently shawls the Mojave with stars— ten-billion-year-old pixie dust speckling the eastern hemisphere—as our bodies, way stations of hydrogen, carbon, and phosphorus atoms becloud the hairpin-river of the Milky Way beyond the light pollution of Los Angeles, midsummer August. Sea-bright on stillness, rose-prickled and spectrally red-shifted, ancient star fumes blaze with our unbridled wishes, blend with the coiled smoke of gashed comets barely the age of the oldest star discovered, the Methuselah star— born fourteen billion years ago.
From the writer
:: Account ::
Eternity, not the perfume, is on my mind lately, not so much for olfactory but ontological and other reasons, or maybe just out of mundane curiosity. The Methuselah star—over four billion years old, a paradoxical age that makes it older than the universe—and China’s lunar rover—surface in these poems, thanks to my perusal of Space.com, whose items I pondered out of aforesaid curiosity as a poet. How can a star be older than the universe? Why isn’t the dark side of the moon actually dark? Will cotton seeds survive on the moon? Why not? For the past two decades, I’ve lived in various cities in southern California, and now by the sea. The sky opens up with Hopkinsesque grandeur. During a new moon when its light is obscured, or if you ever drive inland to the high desert, zillions of stars are visible to an unaided eye. When I hold myself still for a minute to bear witness to these finite aspects of creation, I feel God shooting a fleet of valentines from the outer reaches of eternity into the here-and-now of my heart. And in case anyone is wondering, the age of the Methuselah star was recalculated as 4.5 billion—give or take 800 million years—which would put it at slightly younger than the universe, if we go with a minus sign.
Bartels, Meghan. “Cotton Seeds Sprout on Moon’s Far Side.” Space.com, 15 January 2019, www.space.com/43012-china-cotton-seed-moon-far-side-chang-e4.html.
David, Leonard. “Chinese Rover and Lander Survive 1st Frigid Night on Moon’s Far Side.” Space.com, 1 February 2019, www.space.com/43192-china-farside-moon-mission-survives-lunar-night.html.
Peterson, Eugene. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Westmont, IL: IVP Press, 1980.
Wall, Mike. “Strange ‘Methuselah’ Star Looks Older than the Universe.” Space.com, 7 March 2013, www.space.com/20112-oldest-known-star-universe.html.
Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. She authored two novels, Sonata in K (Ellipsis, 2017) and The Maze of Transparencies (Ellipsis, 2019). Lee’s translations of Li Qingzhao’s writing, Doubled Radiance: Poetry & Prose of Li Qingzhao (Singing Bone, 2018), is the first volume in English to collect Li’s work in both genres. Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Currently, she lives in San Diego, where she serves in the administration at Point Loma Nazarene University.