Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Poem: Albedo by Harvey Molloy


A terminator line
cuts the moon

like a millionaire cake
into two sharp slices;

white and black.
The earth casts a shadow

across its monochrome twin
that turns so perfectly

in step with our dance
we never see her move.

A vast blanket
of frozen regolith

covers the scarred
brightside face

smashed by a million
meteor punchups

and throws a wash
of pale light

over the black tar roof
of the outside laundry.

Harvey Molloy

A poem by a Harvey put up by a Harvey. There’s a simple explanation. For this Tuesday Weeks’ poem most members of the group have been paired and asked to select a poem of their partner’s. I’m grateful that the organisers paired me with Harvey Molloy. It’s forced me into his work.

In the rush of cards that have come into our household this Christmas there have been lots of stars and the occasional sun. The moon has been ignored. It is not part of the nativity story. Interesting! Down the centuries the moon has excited a lot of human emotion and has been the source of many a legend and tale. There is no space in the inn for the moon.

Harvey Molloy’s take on that cool piece of rock is really striking. I’ve liked it from the moment I first came across it earlier this year.. It’s rational and concisely scientific. At the same time it captures that sense of awe the moon can compel.

I am not a scientist. Nor an astronomer! But in my childhood’s country quiet a cloudless full-moon was a stunning sight as the familiar hills took on a enigmatic colouring. Sometimes, that full moon even bestrode rather ghostly a daytime sky.

There’s nothing elusive about this planetary object, but it seems at all ages to carry an always air of mysteriousness.

Monthly and young I saw then the changing cycles. At that stage explanations left me bewildered. I was told the ocean’s tides were dependent upon those cycles. Down the centuries poets and philosophers had pondered about the meaning and nature of this phenomena.

Now we understand the science. And therefore the miracle of it more. Men have walked on the moon’s surface and returned to earth bringing samples of its surface back. Nevertheless, its existence still retains that ability to create wonder, amazement, inspiration and even fear.

Sometimes people complain about a poet’s obscurity. Occasionally, rightly so. But usually not. T.S.Eliot assumed a knowledge of Christian theology, Classical mythology and European literature. In his period it was a fair claim. More difficult now. So I give some background to Harvey Molloy’s terminology. He’s not being difficult. He’s being accurate. And, as a poet, astute. Like all words technical terms have sound and resonate in their own right and with other words. The moon’s there. He describes it. Accurately! End of story! Not of enigma!.

‘Albus’ is the Latin word for ‘white’. A derivation ‘albedo’ was first used in a scientific sense in 1760 to measure reflectivity, how strongly an object reflects light. The ‘terminator line’ is the term given to the line that separates the illuminated (day) side of a planetary body from its dark (night) side. ‘Regolith’ is loose material covering solid rock. On the moon it is the powdery layer created by meteors hitting the surface.

‘Albedo’ is a very visual poem. That’s one of Molloy’s strengths. He’s good at juxtaposition. And atmosphere! The sun may produce heat while the moon remains inert but there’s a calmness and simplicity in its regular appearance, Speaking about another of his Moonshot poems in his blog he says ‘nothing much happens in the poem at all; no bangs, no surprises, just little movements.’ True of this one as well.

I like his metaphor of meteor punchups on the moon’s face. Down the ages its surface has taken many hits. And I admire the matter-of-factness tone of the last four lines. Yes, that’s exactly how it would have looked. That laundry black tar roof would have appeared pallid and frightful in the moonlight. Our imagination engages – silver and sinister merge and mingle in our mind with scientific certitude.

If you want to read my poem selected by Harvey Molloy hit the Tuesday Poem quill button on the left hand side and enter the site. I intended to put the poem up on my blog as part of my Christmas season. Harvey has done it for me. Thanks!


  1. Harvey, I love your UNNOTICED poem.

  2. A great choice. I like the science of the poem that also achieves wonder--and that marvelous juxtaposition at the end of "...the black tar roof//
    of the outside laundry."

    Merry Christmas, Harvey.

  3. I, too, love the unique imagery and choice of colloquial terms that Harvey has used here. I particularly admire the lines, 'cuts the moon like a millionaire cake into two sharp slices'. Thanks so much for posting, Harvey!

  4. What's "millionaire cake"? - clearly I'm scoffing at the wrong bakery.

    I admire the preciseness of this poem, too. And how it doesn't try too hard - sure it has the metalanguage, but only where it is required. And it does seem to be the only way it could have been written. I like how it awakens a new appreciation in an oft' ignored spectre.

  5. And isn't there a lunar eclipse right now?

  6. I've just come in from glimsping the eclipse half completed through a layer of cloud - this poem seems very appropriate for the day.