lenten journal: song about the moon


    The path from the restaurant to my car leads me across the heart of Duke’s West Campus five nights a week. Most of the time, not too many folks are out walking when I am, but tonight the Quad was rather well populated with students all standing and facing in the same direction and staring up into the sky. My first thought was they were waiting to see if the Pentagon was going to be able to shoot down its own spy satellite before it fell to earth. I finally asked a girl and guy who were standing near to the sidewalk.

    “It’s a lunar eclipse,” she answered, “but it’s behind the cloud now.”

    I had no idea that was even happening today. My NPR time gave me nothing but stuff about Castro and the primaries – at least those were the stories I got to hear during prep time. But as I kept walking and trying to look up to see if the clouds might part, I thought of Psalm 8:

    I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers,
    at the moon and the stars you set firm –
    what are human beings that you spare a thought for them?

    When I sat down to write tonight, I still had the moon on my mind. Ella came in and barked to be taken outside one last time before she went to bed and we stood out under what was by then a clear sky and a moon free of the shadow.

    And I started thinking about songs. While Ella trotted in the dark carrying a pine cone in her mouth, I sang softly,

    I’m being followed by a moonshadow
    moonshadow, moonshadow
    leaping and hopping on a moonshadow
    moonshadow, moonshadow

    My favorite part is the bridge:

    will it take long to find me
    I asked the faithful light
    will it take long to find me
    and are you gonna stay the night

    Italo Calvino has a wonderful short story called, “The Distance of the Moon” (in Cosmicomics) in which he describes the time near the beginning of human history when the moon was close enough to touch. At high tide, people could reach the moon by ladder; they would visit and then get back before the tide went back out. The natural flow of the universe was to expand, so each night the distance became a little greater, as did the risk of climbing to the moon, until finally it was no longer in reach.

    Perhaps we keep singing because we can’t get there so easily. And so Shawn Colvin sings (with Ernie)

    So if I should visit the moon
    Well, I’ll dance on a moonbeam and then
    I will make a wish on a star
    And I’ll wish I was home once again
    Though I’d like to look down at the earth from above
    I would miss all the places and people I love
    So although I may go I’ll be coming home soon
    ‘Cause I don’t want to live on the moon
    No, I don’t want to live on the moon

    There are probably enough moon songs to line the lyrics end to end and reach the cold hearted orb that rules the night, but I think my favorite is Paul Simon’s “Song About the Moon” (from my favorite Paul Simon record, Hearts and Bones):

    If you want to write a song about the moon
    Walk along the craters in the afternoon
    When the shadows are deep
    And the light is alien
    And gravity leaps like a knife off the pavement
    And you want to write a song about the moon
    You want to write a spiritual tune
    Then nah nah nah
    Song about the moon

    If you want to write a song about the heart
    Think about the moon before you start
    Because the heart will howl
    Like a dog in the moonlight
    And the heart can explode
    Like a pistol on a June night
    So if you want to write a song about the heart
    And its ever-longing for a counterpart
    Write a song about the moon
    The laughing boy
    He laughed so hard
    He fell down from his place
    The laughing girl
    She laughed so hard
    The tears rolled down her face

    Hey Songwriter
    If you want to write a song about
    A face
    Think about a photograph
    That you really can’t remember
    But you can’t erase
    Wash your hands in dreams and lightning
    Cut off your hair
    And whatever is frightening
    If you want to write a song
    About a face
    If you want to write a song about
    The human race
    Write a song about the moon
    If you want to write a song about the moon
    You want to write a spiritual tune
    Then do it
    Write a song about the moon

    Tonight was a good night at work. We were busy again – which is great news – and everyone did well. I reworked the dish the critic had maligned and it was better, too. As hard as I worked today, I came out into the night somewhat energized. Maybe the moon’s game of hide and seek and the folks staring together up into the clouds and stars was contagious. Maybe we were all a little bit washed in dreams and lightning. What I came to tell is the clouds passed and our shadow left the moon unscathed. I know because it didn’t take long to find me and send a shadow of its own while Ella searched for pine cones in its soft glow.



    1. Milton,
      My son, John, and I waited patiently for the moon to appear, but, alas, the clouds were plentiful and the view obscured. As it turns out, it was the waiting together that made the evening memorable. Thanks for your nice piece.

    2. I stood at my door looking up at the sky for about an hour while my brother and I talked on the phone about how cool it is to be looking at the same sky from different places.

      Moonshadow is one of my favorite songs. It always reminds me of one of my best long time friends.

      Peace, Molly

    3. I’m sensing an illumination of a new life perspective, courtesy of a new place to call home.
      Are you, too, emerging from shadows?
      You’ve been sounding satisfied and content.
      And it sounds wonderful.
      Blessings to you and Ginger…

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