539: Full Moon

539: Full Moon

539: Full Moon


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

What is it about poets and the moon? I think it might be an actual obsession. Or maybe it’s everyone's obsession. The moon pulling us this way and that. Controlling the tides, influencing our bodies. Historically turning some into monsters. Honestly, I’m never sure if the moon is on my side or not. Sometimes, I find myself making a wish on a full moon that I think might be benevolent. Sometimes, I find myself flipping the moon off when the day has been terrible. I can blame the moon for a lot of things.

I remember once being at a friend's wedding on Cape Cod. All day we wore our best clothes and were on our best behavior. But that night it felt like the moon was closer and fuller and kept pulling us to the ocean. A handful of us stayed up a little later and sat on the beach, watching the moon big and round. The moon was just as much in the water as it was in the sky.

Soon, it felt like all our fancy wedding clothes were too tight and the performance of being a human being was silly. Here we were, strange living animals sitting by the water and spellbound under the moon. Before I even thought about it, my clothes were off and I was completely naked swimming in the cold waters of Cape Cod Bay. It just seemed like the right thing to do. The full moon seems to instruct me to be more of myself; whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. It’s just more me, just the original self without all the burden of clothing and makeup and societal constraints.

This was probably twenty years ago, but I think I’d do it again right now if the moon was full and the glow on the water looked like a staircase out of a Busby Berkeley number. Maybe that’s why poets love the moon so much. It’s not good or bad, it just lights everything up, giving all those underneath parts of us a little light. Even if we don’t know if the moon is on our side, we are on the side of the moon.

In today’s poem by the early 20th century poet Elinor Wylie, we watch as the speaker grows tired of her human costume, the pretense, and wants to feel the moonlight in her bones. In this luminous poem, the full moon is a call to a sort of raw sensual freedom.

Full Moon
by Elinor Wylie

My bands of silk and miniver
Momently grew heavier;
The black gauze was beggarly thin;
The ermine muffled mouth and chin;
I could not suck the moonlight in.

Harlequin in lozenges
Of love and hate, I walked in these
Striped and ragged rigmaroles;
Along the pavement my footsoles
Trod warily on living coals.

Shouldering the thoughts I loathed,
In their corrupt disguises clothed,
Morality I could not tear
From my ribs, to leave them bare
Ivory in silver air.

There I walked, and there I raged;
The spiritual savage caged
Within my skeleton, raged afresh
To feel, behind a carnal mesh,
The clean bones crying in the flesh.