Two Poems

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.
__________________
INSPIRATION

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.