29 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Gemini Spacewalk, by Harvey Molloy

Gemini Spacewalk

I was out there
with the flag

and the mission instructions
for the EVA

on my sleeve
but I fell behind schedule

caught by the blue arc
of sky and ocean

against the black
a hurricane-stirred

cappuccino cloud
covered the Gulf of Mexico

except for the transparent
flea of the Florida peninsula

even the small
drops of ice

from the coolant tank
formed perfect worlds

and I thought
of Trey’s letter

from the 365 US Marine
helicopter squadron

a fortnight spent cleaning the aircraft
cleaning weapons

watching dolphins and gulls
chase the ship

days spent writing letters
thinking of Mary Jane

listening to the Shirelles
thinking of home

then back ashore to the hot tent city
of the Da Nang airbase

the talk of operation
Rolling Thunder

towns with colonnades

overlooking wide
rain-soaked boulevards

that could be Louisiana!
Just think now

the space
between Hanoi and New Orleans

would be how many
arc minutes

measured by the fingers
of my outspread hand?


Harvey's notes on the poem: I was thinking of Ed White, the first American to walk in space in 1965, and I imagined that he had a relative called Trey who might be in serving Vietnam. So I actually did a fair amount of research for the poem finding out which forces might be in Vietnam at the time--I even read some soldiers letters from 1965. 'EVA' is the NASA acronym for extra-vehicular activity; a spacewalk. Ed White died tragically in a pre-launch test for the first Apollo mission.

Tim says: This is one of my favourite poems from Harvey Molloy's first collection, Moonshot. I like the way in which what appears to be a casual reminiscence by the narrator is shaped into a powerful and effective poem. I was 7 when Ed White died, but I was already fascinated by the US space programme - I would have been fascinated by the Russian space programme if I had known more about it - and uneasily aware of the Vietnam War. This poem effortlessly carries me back to those days. Thank you, Harvey!

You can find all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.


Helen Lowe said...

Great choice, Tim, I love the way it captures history in the small moments of our common humanity.

Kathleen Jones said...

I like this too Tim. I like the economy of the lines.

AJ Ponder said...

Fantastic choice Tim, capturing history so economically within an out of this world moment

Penelope said...

I thought initially this was making commentary on the Gulf spill, and so it might be, when 'even the small drops of ice ... formed perfect worlds', a kind of lament, as well.

Helen Rickerby said...

It's really interesting that both you and Janis Freegard have poems about astronauts this week. Something in the air? Thanks Tim and Harvey.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks for all these comments! Helen, maybe we should move to "set themes" for the Tuesday Poems - "this week, 30 poems about smectite clays"!

Then again, perhaps not.