Missing the Moon, by Bin Ramke. Richmond, California: Omnidawn Publishing, October 2014. 104 pages. $17.95, paper.
There are many moons, the physical moon and the imaginary moon, the moon on which people have walked and the moon on which people have wished, the moon that affects tides and the moon reflected on a lake. Most of the time, we are not aware of the abstract laws that govern our every moment, and we don’t often think of ourselves as “little chemistry sets” who “leak, lyrical and lifelike.” However, there is a “teeming” all around us, and we, too, are part of that teeming, and once in a while, we observe ourselves observing. As Ramke writes, “No two observers see / the same twinkle, though they see / the same stars.” “It is a dance // light dances because we breathe,” he writes. It is this dance that Ramke examines even as he performs its steps in Missing the Moon, a dance in which “we look / and we breathe and we move / and we wait for rain, for the return / of that which is worth fearing / Worth revering.”
Missing the Moon bears an epigraph from Finnegan’s Wake: “If I ever. When the moon of mourning is set and gone.” Ramke has divided the collection into three sections, each of which bears its own epigraph. He scatters allusions and epigraphs throughout the book, frequently attributing them in the actual poems, and he prefaces the poem “By Heart” with this passage: “There is the strange case of the angle 3pi/7 (540/7 degrees). This angle cannot be constructed. But (if you managed to miraculously have it before you) it can be trisected. Honsberger 1991, Jim Loy.” It seems that the “moon of mourning” presents the speaker of these poems with this impossible angle, and the speaker trisects it into “The Inconceivable,” “Phases of the Earth,” and “Pronouncing the Asterisk,” setting up a kind of Hegelian synthesis, the product of which is a beautiful narrative whose failure is embedded in its construction. But while it fails, it suffices. It suffices perhaps because it fails.
“Part One: The Inconceivable” begins with an epigraph from Voltaire that contains this sentence: “It is the art of numbering and measuring exactly a thing whose existence cannot be conceived.” Ramke begins the process of “numbering and measuring” the inconceivable in a poem titled “Contain”:
Like tiny dandelions down the page
the devices wander marking edges
but the page is paler than blown seeds
against the moon, watch:
contain is what a body does
until it doesn’t, and spills itself.
In this poem, it seems that the inconceivable is in the body or is the body; it’s the “twinkle” that no two observers perceive the same way. This poem also begins to establish the relationship between language and the body. Later, in the first section, Ramke ends “Of the Vegetative Night”: “Contain is what the body does / until it doesn’t, then spells itself.” The variation in this repetition of the ending of the first poem turns “spills” into “spells.” The acts of spilling and spelling have the same effect. In the first lines of “Of the Vegetative Night,” the speaker warns, “A word can contain terrors / readily as rotting logs leak legs, centipedes / and caterpillars.” The word that contains terrors also spills/spells the body. Near the end of the book, the speaker of “The Second Most Important Living Goddess Called Kumari under the Moon” gives us these criteria for determining the safety of a voice: “If the voice can be certainly traced to a point / outside the skin the self is safe to listen. If / voice begins within, there lies danger.” Of course, we haven’t yet made it to the self and voice; we are still at the level of body and word, but the principles of this evolution are in place.
Part Two, “Phases of the Earth,” begins with a quote from Eugene Cernan: “We went into darkness after being in daylight the whole time on the way to the Moon. And then we went into darkness. And were in the shadow of […] of the Moon.” In the shadow of the moon, “crape myrtle, azalea, camellia, jasmine, all / abloom by now back there / all fill a mind with nearness.” The poems in Missing the Moon trace proximities and shapes, and nearness, rather than distance, fills the speaker with anguish. In “Mattering,” Ramke writes:
out of gloom uncoiling
yet the lines are straight in a locally Euclidean sort of way
the shape of a kite compels geometry
the measure of the earth the earth of measurement
being still so far for so available a being
still in broken and disguised patterns
o so broken we have become
we always were so, broken, becoming
“Becoming” indicates an approach to something, but we “always were” becoming, so we never fully embody anything. At the end of the poem, the speaker says, “I knew the mind of a boy as a place but / disorderly but minded his manners his / matter ….” The boy has “a shape like a soap film within intersect- / ing sticks as if any polygon could think / imagine he was more beautiful than ice.” Here, it isn’t clear whether the mind is a projection of the world or the world a projection of the mind. According to the speaker of “Solve General Boundary Value Problems,” we have made “hole structures … in the world by living a life, any life,” but it also seems that these hole structures open inside of us, or we mirror them at least. Part Two ends, “Air takes its shape from gravity, its edge,” a transition into “Pronouncing the Asterisk.” “The breath obstructed becomes the poem,” Ramke writes.
Part Three opens with this line from Tristan Tzara: “I am but a small noise I have several noises in me.” Echoing the “devices” in the first poem in the collection—Ramke weaves the book with repetition—the speaker of “Resonance” says, “Devices divide, and long afterward / humans live their lingering lives— / it is called decay.” At least some of this decay is a decay into the noises of narratives. In “Among the Functions of Flowers,” we learn more about the relationship between the mind and the world:
there was once a place and time
in the mind of a child verdant
the child made the greenness of the time
a function of mind in the world
‘world’ a function involving a variable
A making requiring a given ….
The mind does seem to project into the world, but it doesn’t completely form the world. It supplies “greenness” as a function. In “To You, in Lieu of,” the speaker says that “there must be brain mechanisms that act / to distinguish self-generated mental experiences / (arising from neural activity initiated by our own brains) / from mental experiences stimulated through our sense organs.” This voice ceases to come from outside of the speaker but is “self-generated / sad and sudden loss, knowing.” The external voice seeps into the speaker’s interior and becomes the internal voice. As the speaker has told us before, the internal voice can be dangerous; however, the external (objective?) voices can be overbearing: “Biological gods break hearts daily / deny, turn the child / into his own enemy self.” Fortunately, we have the “gift of eyelids … the ability to close.” Even though “(a)ll butterflies” are “banished, all flowers / felled by frost—still I am sitting / in my garden. As if. Human.” There is power in being able to act “as if,” and some of our “errors” are “fleshed miraculous / an eros carving a way in skin.”
The speaker of “Too” tells us that “curious creatures’ / main interest is the meaning / of their own existence,” but “(w)ho has ears to hear / the solar wind?” Like the speaker of “Why It Is Painful to Speak,” we “translate (ourselves) into (ourselves).” Later, Ramke writes, “Lucretius loved Epicurus, knew / the world through him. This / meaning is clear: love is a way of knowing, of assuming the known.” After an asterisk, the poem continues:
To know is to narrate.
People die trying to tell what
it was like there then. Others
die of not trying. The form of this
telling is, for example,
a trellis. A growth controlled
unpredictable within measure.
Ultimately, “to fall is to embrace / gravity,” and it’s the grace of gravity that delivers us to this “(g)orgeous outland, earth / animals die of, dearth, / tiny world of privation / in (curious word) space.” And while the “tiny world / teems with anguish, with narrow / stems through which fluids flow,” those stems are “topped by gorgeous, outlandish … / flowers.”
Jordan Sanderson grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in several journals, including Better: A Journal of Culture and Lit, Gigantic Sequins, Red Earth Review, burntdistrict and Caketrain, and he is the author of two chapbooks, The Formulas (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Abattoir (forthcoming from Slash Pine Press). Jordan’s critical work has appeared in The Hollins Critic, Heavy Feather Review, and Alehouse, among other journals. He currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.