I am the moon, and you are the man on me
Tonight, I am white and full. My surface is all curves and craters, but you don't mind. You have travelled alone through the dark, through the vacuum of dark; training your hands for this task, building imaginary engines. This is the kind of territory you were born to navigate. You know by heart every treacherous route through these white dunes; you have drawn maps of every scar, and you sense storms. Your compass does not work here, but you are sexy in your spaceman suit. We twirl giddily, in orbit around the days, the months. You are wary of my high tides – I am your escape-pod. A familiar world spins below, tracked by the beam of your telescope; we shudder at passing asteroids, send messages home by satellite. Tonight, I am white and full. You are the man on me, and I am the moon.
Claire Askew is a poet and writer living in Edinburgh; her first collection, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe in 2016.Read more about this poet
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
This poem bears repeated reading, and brings a smile each time. Askew comes at the subject of sex with a winningly fresh eye, subverting the idea of the man in the moon by turning herself into the cratered surface of the earth's satellite, and her lover into the explorer – "sexy in your spaceman suit" – come to conquer her. One of its charms is Askew's open-eyed awareness of the gulf between male and female. With élan, and girlish passion, she captures the unbridgeable but not incompatible difference of outlook that makes relationships such uncharted, otherworldly, and thrilling territory.
It's impossible to explain the title of this poem without sounding utterly eccentric; I've had to many a time and never succeeded in sounding sensible. Basically, the story is this: I am an avid fan of the collection of absinthes made by the company 'La Fee,' and once upon a time I signed up to their promotional mailing list. La Fee holds a festival every year which celebrates all things Parisian, bohemian and absinthe-related, and last year they sent me a pamphlet detailing the line-up. On the bill was a burlesque dancer named Julie Atlas, who performs a 'burlesque ballet' called "I am the moon, and you are the man on me." (See? Absinthe and burlesque dancing. Eccentric.) I was captivated by this phrase, and it called up so many symbols and connotations that I had to grab a pen and paper and start writing them down. Eventually, this poem emerged, and I was shocked and delighted when The Edinburgh Review decided to publish it.
(Unfortunately, when I showed it to my boyfriend Leon - who is something of a physics geek - his first reaction was not that this was a wonderful poem; he was more concerned with the fact that much of the pseudo-scientific imagery in it was "technically wrong." Oh well…)