50 years since the first moon landing. What of Michael Collins, who stayed on board Apollo 11..?
MICHAEL COLLINS ORBITS THE MOON
I am elected watchman. It’s my lot
to turn and turn in my tiny cradle. Not
my fortune or my obligation
to first-foot the moon or talk of it to nations.
Not for me grey beach or empty ocean,
not for me earthlight or the silent locomotion
of the stars. Uncrowded by the voices
of the world I slip away. The world rejoices
and I fold myself into the secret night
behind the moon. Afloat in amniotic light
I remain an embryo, a diagram, a plan.
This egg will carry me unborn while man
takes giant steps below. But unevolved, unhatched,
Columbia and I become initials scratched
on incomprehensible darkness. I’m serene
in my awful solitude, turning through this lane between
the impassive weight of galaxies and the husk
of the moon. I close my eyes; a kind of dusk
prevails, half-recollection of diurnal time,
a rhythm bound into the rhyme
of seasons. And I dream of the grass
of prairies, lost highways that pass,
relentless and unbending, by abandoned outposts,
forts and cowtowns whose brave boothill ghosts
still ride the range; the empty-hearted homesteads
whose screendoors bang on windy nights; dry riverbeds
enclosed by old barbed wire, and oil-well donkeys, one end
gazing at the sand, the other at the stars. Old trails bend
and turn upon themselves and men and women pause
inside their journeys, build fences, write down laws
and call their scratches in the sand Jerusalem.
But clear night brings the stars – still over Bethlehem
or singing like a choir in Cassiopeia. And I ride
Columbia back into the hard blue scrutiny of earth. The tide
of their voices wakes me. Exultant, I invoke the charter
of my race: small steps like mine are mighty steps, ad inexplorata.
From ANCIENT LIGHTS by Dick Jones.