Moon-Dust

(An old piece I wrote in 2003, inspired by reading up about the Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 70s. Did you know that only 12 people have ever set foot on the moon, the last of them in 1972, barely 3 years after the first? And that the last 3 planned Apollo missions were eventually cancelled, due to the spiralling costs of the Vietnam war? I find it sad to think of all those huge dreams of the 1950s and 60s, of the coming Space Age, and how it all just fizzled out.)

9.30pm Houston time we landed.
Bumpily, and quite close to disaster,
this far away from home. We’ve sent the message
back to Texas, now a dot too small
to see. We hear the cheers, between our breathing.
I feel alone, and loud inside my head.
Waiting, while computers print out readings;
two men, breathing hot imported air.
I feel as if I should be feeling something.
My thoughts are untranslateable to me.
We are here. It’s happening this moment.
It’s no good – meaningless. I start rehearsing
the words for history: ‘One giant leap’.

With airtight heads and bodies on, we open
the hatchway to a dark and desert sea –
Tranquillity. It sits there untouched, waiting
for me to clamber backwards down the ladder
and take that one small step; a human foot
on alien surfaces for the first time.
In crackling radio-breaths I fluff the first line:
‘a small step for a man’ – never mind.
The ground is soft, our light and childish bodies
bounce around in dreamlike glee. Our perfect
footprints, crisp and still, will lie unmoving,
unblown by breezes, for a million years.
‘Magnificent’ (Buzz calls it) ‘desolation’.

Seems odd to me, how quickly it’s all over.
There’s nothing much to do, except collect
the souvenirs, the flags and photographs,
the “We were here”s. Getting back inside
is like a strange awakening – we did it,
and now we’re going home. As if it were
a picnic, in a park just off the freeway.
A bare two hours of insulated wonder,
looking at our Earth from a new distance.
What have we learned? We feel a little foolish,
like schoolboys wasting fascinating field trips:
remembering only what they had for lunch,
and who got lost, who threw up on the bus.

Are we unworthy? Should we be enlightened,
illuminated, changed by what we’ve done?
The door clicks shut; we sit a while in silence.
When we remove our masks, inside this capsule
of earth-air that we’ve carried all this distance,
a strange unearthly scent is all around us:
the moon-dust clings to gloves and boots like powdered
charcoal, in the oxygen expiring.
I feel a sudden mad desire, to rush out
helmetless and barefoot, and to scuffle
in the dust, then lie down, sweating, breathless,
and to roll, downhill and off the grey edge
of this tiny world with the black sky.

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