[I have long been fascinated by the figure of Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut, who steered the command module around the moon, while Armstrong and Aldrin stomped around on its surface, waiting, like a patient bus-driver, to pick them up from their giant leap forward for humankind.
Collins shares his name with the Irish Nationalist leader who was gunned down by more radical elements in the Irish liberation movement towards the end of the Irish Civil War.
In this poem, I imagine Collins the astronaut as a reincarnation of the Irish freedom fighter and reference the true story whereby a Cape Canaveral controller recounted the tragic story of the Chinese goddess of the moon (Chang’e), as Collins prepared to disappear around the dark side of our barren companion. Collins responded with a sexist and arguably racist remark about ‘bunny girls’.
Fifty years on, the Chinese have now for the first time landed an unmanned craft on the ‘dark’ side of the moon and chosen to name the project after this doomed goddess and her mythological rabbit companion.
My poem on this subject is guided in part by the late Tang dynasty Chinese poet Li Shangyin’s poem Chang’e. The bilingual pun barely requires comment: change with a blip or a glitch in it.
Out of respect, I first present a translation (not my own) of Li Shangyin’s delicate beautiful poem before launching into my more tumultuous, vulgar, rocket-fuelled version of it.]
Chang’e by Li Shangyin
Behind the mica screen, candles cast deep shadows.
The Great River slowly sinks, and dawn stars are drowned.
Chang-e must regret stealing the elixir—
over blue sea, in dark sky, thinking night after night
Chang’e by Paul Webb
Michael Collins nips round the backside of the moon
on his way back from death by gunfire on the way
to Cork. The man
is as far away from any other living creature
as any human being ever has been, he thinks.
Cape Canaveral tell him the story of Chang’e—
the immortality potion, the shock of eternal
disembodiment, the pining spouse, the jade rabbit—
to cheer him up.
“I’ll look out for that bunny girl,” MC quips,
as he drifts beyond radio communication
around the shiny dark side of the moon
to an audience of sparkling winking
once and future stars.