To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night
Tethered by a thought, as much
as by the slender umbilical
—half a metre for every year of his life—
he hangs in space above
the slow-turning planet,
tiny as a moth, orbiting
a street lamp at the end
of a deserted road—houses
guarded by ranks of sullen weeds,
snowflakes drifting through
a broken gable, shards of glass
dulling in the sodden carpet.
And everywhere the mist—
a grey tide gathering
into a silent sea,
broken only by the stanchion, its
sallow sodium glow,
the moth’s ragged circling,
and the astronaut, staring down
into the well
of cloud and weather,
the gold flash from his visor
as he bends
to take the earth’s confession.
Joanna Preston is a Tasmanaut poet, editor and freelance creative writing tutor, who lives in a rural town in Canterbury. Her first collection of poetry, The Summer King (Otago University Press, 2009), won the inaugural Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry, and also the 2010 Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize for the best first collection by an Australian poet. Her work has been published widely, both in New Zealand and overseas. She lived in England from 2003 to 2006 and studied for an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, where she worked with Gillian Clarke, Tony Curtis and Sheenagh Pugh. She is the current poetry editor of takahē magazine.
Preston comments: ‘Writing a poem can take you into some strange places. “Earthrise” came about in part because of a conversation I had with a good friend (now in her eighties) about cosmology. She said that NASA had stolen her moon: that she had grown up being able to think of the moon as some remote, magical, mystical being, but that those ideas couldn’t survive the brute fact of people actually walking on its surface and reporting back. (What deity could?) Which sent me off to spend a month wallowing in the ins and outs and history of sending human beings into space. As a demonstration of human ingenuity, making it to the moon and safely back is hard to beat.
‘For me, the awe is still there. My generation may have lost the moon as a goddess, but instead we’ve gained knowledge—of the vastness of the universe, of the existence and composition of other galaxies, and the incredible, fragile beauty of this small planet. But it’s worth remembering that putting a man on the moon came out of the cold war, and wasn’t entirely intended as an enterprise to benefit all humanity. So my cosmonaut looks back down at a planet that may not be in the condition it was when he left.
‘A final note—the poem was written long before the film Gravity came out, and contains many true details about the early days of humans in space. (Well, for a given value of “true”.) There are a couple of famous “earthrise” photos, but my favourite—and the one I had pinned up beside me while I wrote this poem—is “Crescent Earth from the Departing Rosetta Spacecraft”, from the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.’