“Moondog” by Susan Donnelly

He just stood there,
at the corner of 43rd Street
and Sixth Avenue,
nearly seven feet tall,
dressed as a Viking.
Everyone, it seemed,
in New York in the ’60s
knew Moondog. They said
he’d been a stockbroker,
from a rich family.
They said he was blind.

I was writing a novel that year,
but didn’t know how,
and falling in love,
and everything moved so fast,
but the Viking was motionless.
I know he wrote songs,
but I never heard any.
He just stared outward.
I’d wake up, write myself dizzy,
then go walking, fast,
through the streets.

One day, a stranger
stopped me: JFK had been shot!
This was in midtown. The bells
of St. Patrick’s began tolling
and I joined all the others
going up the cathedral steps.
I’d seen the President
just last month — young,
glinting like silver,
in a limousine going up Madison
to the Hotel Carlyle.
He waved to all of us
and we waved back, cheering…

Or are these tears
for the broken love,
the unreadable novel?
Anyway, the years.

“Moondog” by Susan Donnelly, from Transit. © Iris Press, 2001.

6 thoughts on ““Moondog” by Susan Donnelly

  1. Will Grimes

    The 22nd is (was) my birthday. I am (was) not in tears but this Donnelly poem reminds me of a poem by Marianne Moore:

    What Are Years ?

    What is our innocence,
    what is our guilt? All are
    naked, none is safe. And whence
    is courage: the unanswered question,
    the resolute doubt, —
    dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
    in misfortune, even death,
    encourage others
    and in its defeat, stirs
    the soul to be strong? He
    sees deep and is glad, who
    accedes to mortality
    and in his imprisonment rises
    upon himself as
    the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
    free and unable to be,
    in its surrendering
    finds its continuing.
    So he who strongly feels,
    behaves. The very bird,
    grown taller as he sings, steels
    his form straight up. Though he is captive,
    his mighty singing
    says, satisfaction is a lowly
    thing, how pure a thing is joy.
    This is mortality,
    this is eternity.

    Marianne Moore

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Happy Belated Birthday, William, I hope you had a wonderful day. Love that Marianne Moore piece, thank you! Reminds me of a Jane Hirshfield poem, I can’t think of the name, but it’s about when her soul looks back on her life and what it would say. I’ll try to find it.


    2. Found it!

      “When Your Life Looks Back” by Jane Hirshfield

      When your life looks back—
      As it will, at itself, at you—what will it say?

      Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.
      Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.
      Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.

      Your life will carry you as it did always,
      With ten fingers and both palms,
      With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
      With its filling and emptying heart,
      That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
      You gave it. What else could you do?

      Immersed in air or in water.
      Immersed in hunger or anger.
      Curious even when bored.
      Longing even when running away.

      “What will happen next?”—
      the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
      in the in-breaths even of weeping.
      Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
      Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
      No back of the world existed,
      No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.

      This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
      Here, your life had said, its only house.
      Let, your life had said, its only order.

      And did you have a choice in this? You did—

      Sleeping and waking,
      the horses around you, the mountains around you,
      The buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts.
      Those of your own kind around you—

      A few times, you stood on your head.
      A few times, you chose not to be frightened.
      A few times, you held another beyond any measure.
      A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure.

      Mortal, your life will say,
      As if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
      Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.


    1. Awww, your comment made MY day! Thanks for taking the time to say hi. I’m not posting daily as I was, but the more relaxed “post as time allows” structure sure has been less stressful. I’m enjoying the spontaneity. 🙂 Thanks again for your note! Love, christy


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