As a space history buff for about 25 years (Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 was my gateway drug), as well as a poet who has been inspired to write numerous poems about the Mercury, Gemini, and (especially) the Apollo programs, I have been enjoying the celebration surrounding the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
It’s interesting to see the mass culture get (briefly?) excited about something that I’ve become accustomed to most folks not caring or thinking as much about as I do. (That syntax is janky, isn’t it?)
Tomorrow will mark the 50th anniversary of the splashdown of Apollo 11. I thought I might be done writing poems inspired by the space program, but no, as it turns out, three new ones are percolating in embryonic drafts as I type this. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought I was done writing these poems.
Here’s an older poem inspired by Buzz Aldrin — whose role in the success of Gemini especially cannot be overstated, and whose enthusiasm for space exploration and history is relentless and infectious.
Dr. Rendezvous Takes Communion on the Moon
–Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, July 1969
Later, the fire of re-entry. Later, depression
medicated by drinking. Later, sobriety, therapy,
the final wrestling free from the prison
of a hard father’s surveilling regard. Later still,
past seventy, a right hook to lay flat out
a moon hoax conspiracy theorist
who called him a liar, a coward.
Instead of test-pilot school, he chose
the doctoral dissertation on rendezvous techniques
for manned orbiting vehicles, earning the nickname—
one part admiration, one part
the cocksure bully’s jab at any egghead.
But when he solved the unsolvable problem
of Gemini’s required spacewalk – not with brute force
or test pilot bravado, but with a scientist’s cold,
slow methodology—he found a place
in that uneasy brotherhood.
After the landing, before the one small step,
he pulled from his pocket the tiny chalice,
the vial, the slender wafer—spoke reverent words
about the vine and the fruit,
drank and ate the blessed sacrament.
Where most others saw—could only see—
two hopelessly separate and reeling vessels,
he knew enough of both math and mystery,
of both faith and reason, to work out
a slender, algorithmic prayer
to guide them into alignment,
to devise the rendezvous required.