a cold moon


Before I turned out my reading light last night, I saw the moon rising over Mount Hallowell, almost full, and hazy with cloud. It was a cold night, a cold moon, and I put an Ohio Star quilt over the duvet for extra warmth. When I woke at 5, the moon was setting in the west, over the hill we’ve always called Grass Lake Mountain, though it’s not a mountain and there’s no lake called Grass.

These are cold days. Perhaps not in terms of temperature. No frost, no snow, no thin skittering of ice on the water. But there’s a chill at their centre. A chill of not-knowing. Not knowing how long the pandemic will last. Not knowing if we will be spared. Not knowing if John’s damaged nerve will regenerate so that he can walk firmly on his right foot again. On Thursday he had the six-week consultation (by phone of course) with his surgeon and was given some hope that feeling might return to the foot, given that there’s now some movement in his toes and heel. He was told he can resume swimming and we went to the empty pool on Friday, relieved to discover that grace and movement in water are still possible. I am cold at night lying next to him, wondering how he must feel, truly, to have prepared himself for double hip surgery and to have awoken with a paralyzed foot. He is brave and most days he does his best with the exercises, walks the deck back and forth to try to urge some strength into his foot. Some days are dark (as well as cold). I know that this is not what he could ever have imagined.

We are reading Beowulf in the evenings, loving the wild energy of Maria Dahvana Headley’s translation.

Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about kings! In the old days,
everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only
stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.

The language owes something to our times, for sure, but translators have always brought elements of contemporary (whenever that might be) idiom to the poem. I think of Seamus Heaney’s translation, just to my right on my shelves, and how somehow his Beowulf has an Irish lilt. This one is wonderful to read aloud. Try this passage for yourself!

I’m the strongest and the boldest, and the bravest and the best.
Yes: I mean—I may have bathed in the blood of beasts,
netted five foul ogres at once, smashed my way into a troll den
and come out swinging, gone skinny-dipping in a sleeping sea
and made sashimi of some sea monsters.
Anyone who fucks with the Geats? Bro, they have to fuck with me. . . .
Now, I want to test my mettle on Grendel, best him,
a match from man into meat. Just us two,
hand to hand. Sweet.

So we read and put logs on the fire and at night I wake more than usual and think about the future–ours, the earth’s–and if I don’t always have the kind of equanimity I’d like to possess, I am doing my best. Sometimes not even the passage of the moon from eastern sky to western is enough reassurance that what matters is deep and resilient. So many of you have sent kind notes and left comments on this site and I thank you all. Even though we’re alone in our house, for health’s sake and safety’s sake, it’s good to know that others care about the progress of that foot and its slow waking. In the meantime, let me recommend this wonderful poem in your own antler-tipped tower during this siege we are all enduring.

The hall loomed, golden towers antler-tipped;
it was asking for burning, but that hadn’t happened yet.
You know how it is: every castle wants invading, and every family
has enemies born within it. Old grudges recrudesce.

6 thoughts on “a cold moon”

  1. Theresa, I too, a perpetually cheerful person, have dark thoughts sometimes, as the days get shorter, darker, colder, and as the world outside the front door is still frightening. Who could have imagined a time when we cannot hug or go to the theatre or … And for you, a time when John had limited mobility. But you remind us, once again, of the power and beauty of words and of community and of friendship. Your friends may be far away but we are with you.

  2. Thank you so much, Beth — for this, and for your earlier notes of encouragement. There have been good things during the past 6 weeks — the deliveries of soups, halibut and roasted vegetables, pine mushrooms — gifts in the mail (the Beowulf from Susan Z.), daily conversations with our children. They are eager for the plain and the wondrous, which is reassuring. The other evening, during a video call, grandson Henry wanted to see the moose antlers hanging in the carport (a bow to Dawson City, via the Nazko Valley), and in the dark, lit only the motion lights, we could barely see them. So I took the photograph here for him. (He once confided to me that moose wear antlers, as we might wear a toque.)

  3. Not knowing. Back when the pandemic was still in early days and I was walking Mom’s last steps with her, I remember talking to a friend about how everyone we knew was in a kind of limbo. I observed that not knowing has always been the case, only now it’s so damn obvious we can’t escape it. And it chills! It’s encouraging to hear that John’s been swimming and that grace and movement are still possible in water. So encouraging to hear he has new movement in his toes and heel. I love hearing about the two of you reading by the fire. This translation of Beowulf sounds fun!

    1. Some days the uncertainty feels distant, maybe over the mountain. Other days it takes up residence in my heart. Oh and this Beowulf is definitely worth looking for. The translator has made really interesting choices!

  4. Yes yes to everything you say here. Yesterday on a zoom call of 5 women reading poems of Elise Partridge aloud. Magic–I slept better than usual after. I love the Beowulf extracts! That can only be read aloud, must be shared. Thinking of you both, this unexpected challenge.

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