The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars / Edition 1

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“Over and over again, these poems shape the tensions that arise from Stevens' 'ever restless mind' and the world around us . . . Only the human speaker asks 'what is one to do' on a perfectly beautiful night when a fern 'rooted at the road's edge/casts the shadow of an infant's ribs.' 'No Comment,' the title of this collection's first poem, is Forhan's wonderfully wry answer . . . Thankfully, Chris Forhan cannot hold his tongue, and, in the poems that follow-often lit by a playful sense of humor and a voice that is truly engaging-he creates a landscape that is both intensely physical and replete with the age-old questions.” -- From the Foreword
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555535940
  • Publisher: Northeastern University Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2003
  • Series: Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 86
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Forhan was raised in Seattle and educated at Washington State University (B.A.), the University of New Hampshire (M.A.), and the University of Virginia (M.F.A.). His first book, Forgive Us Our Happiness, won the Bakeless Prize. He has also published two chapbooks, x and Crumbs of Bread. His poetry has won a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, New England Review, Parnassus, and other magazines. He teaches at Auburn University and in the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program. He lives in Auburn, Alabama. ROBERT CORDING is the Barrett Family Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross and the author of four books of poems: Life-list, What Binds Us to this World, Heavy Grace, and Against Consolation. He lives in Connecticut.
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Read an Excerpt

The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars


Northeastern University Press

Copyright © 2003

Chris Forhan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55553-594-1

Chapter One

No Comment

In the leaf's veins and midrib,
the mushroom's gill: no irony.

In the stamen and pistil,
the pip of the grape, making

occurs without suffering,
one is led to suppose.

When the fawn sprawled in a thicket
stiffens, a council of birds

descends and pecks
until its chest is crimson.

The badger's project
is isolation: he knows

only to burrow and sleep,
while the spider spins

in a web wider, more intricate
than his, though this crisis

does not cross his mind.
He proceeds without comment.

Then what is one to do
on a night like this, bright almost

as day, when the lavender moon,
burdened with light,

is near enough to brush
the trees and power lines, when this fern

rooted at the road's edge
casts the shadow of an infant's ribs?

Nothing Doing

Stub of December, the year in a fast fade.
Christmas trees dragged stump-first to the curb,
clumps of wrinkled tinsel the only glitter.

All else-grass, sky-dead yellow,
all else wan and resigned, the black, burnt-out
wick of the year too weak to raise a flame.

Everything looking a little late and left behind:
power line slumped and swinging in a stiff breeze,
wheelchair abandoned beneath the off-ramp,

two-by-four moldering in a ditch, its single
bent nail like a rusty finger bone.
Grackle perched on a mailbox, staring

at nothing. He's right to take a hard look.
I always miss it, too: the turn, the wheeze
of one year becoming the whispered

intimation of a new one, the world's furniture
suddenly in a new room without moving.
It's now, with strict attention, one might

detect the mechanism: the webbed intricacy
of the grackle's brain, the planets stirring up
their circles of dust. Perhaps it's now we're nearest

to something that could save us-something
beyond our knowledge and our will to believe it.
The day is stark, hushed, ground down

to particulars, as if encrypted.
Time to watch for a sign, a shift. When
nothing happens, I'll have my proof.

December 1999

So. Bloated moon. There it is. I didn't miss it.
Biggest in 133 years, the newspaper says.
Something about the poles of the earth-
their direction, something about the winter solstice.
I'm walking toward a restaurant with a woman
of whom I knew nothing when last the moon was full.
Of this moon, I know its plumpness is a trick-
so, too, the way it shines like a new-minted nickel:
old moon, evoker of platitudes, assuming its role
in a new illusion. Anyone with time and a telescope
might have seen this coming. It has to do
with the orbit of bodies in space, the earth's
location relative to the moon and sun.
The red alder's leaves hang glossy, lacquered
in this light. They do not rustle. The breeze
and even the closest, most radiant star
dawdle offstage. Tonight, the corpulent moon
goes solo: it squats and waits to be pondered.
In ten days, the odometer of the big Christian car
we ride in will show an imposing row of zeroes.
It's hard to keep one's eyes on the road
with such a thing coming-a distracted glance away
and one could miss it. It's hard not to think
of how any moment is fugitive-hollow,
then gone-but how, as it makes its long approach,
it holds every possible cargo: every gladness
and ruin imaginable. Tonight, the moon is a zero,
a fat blank: silver, with hints of blue, though this, too,
is only a trick of perspective. I'm walking
with a woman of whose thousand stories and one
I know but two or three, though I know my stories well;
my heart tugs at my sleeve, pleading to tell
its favorite already. Gravity is involved,
of course: the moon hauled along by the earth
as it circles nearer than usual to the sun.
Timing, also-this being one of those nights
the moon steps out from behind the curtain
of the earth's shadow. I'm feeling a little obvious
myself tonight, I'm feeling prone to overstatement.
I'm walking beneath an improbable moon
with a woman whose name will soon keep me up late
racking my skull for rhymes. There's something about
convergence going on, something about the turning of objects
and seasons and about the position of things
in relation to each other, for which there are laws,
so it is possible to live as if dead a long time
then flutter one's eyelids open to a sudden wonder
that might have been expected
had one thought harder about how bodies
rotate in space on invisible tethers, about the role
of natural law-about how, being a law, it is followed.


She reads by the light of a guttering candle
and likes the feel of each page's gilt edge
as she lifts it slightly at the corner, readying

herself to turn it. If the wind whips
the sycamore branches outside her window,
if her nightgowned shoulders shudder once

from a sudden chill, so much the better,
and the book must tell of children toiling
for bread and pennies in a textile mill,

or tender brothers doomed to sharpen
their bayonets in opposing armies,
or a family of refugees, dust

in their mouths, gazing with longing at the far
shore of a river. And I long only
to be the author of that book she reads

whose page glows from the same dim
flame that illuminates her face,
the author whose thought she contemplates

as she touches a fingertip to a word
to mark her place and turns her head
toward the kettle that has begun to whistle.

On an Old Melodrama

There's too much talk of you, Persephone,
sucked down into your late November sewer grate,
spit back in April to stumble

dazed, half-dressed, among us, making your way
to your mother's rose garden
so you can faint, weeping, into her arms.

Hokum like that-what ice-packed heart
wouldn't thaw, what bad poet
wouldn't lick his pencil tip?

Because we miss you and you return,
the days of June seem long, December
a cheat. Because of you, our teeth

rip the flesh of the ripe peach
too eagerly: we recall
the dark, how we bargained for a crust

of the stalest bread. O Persephone,
stay home for good this time.
Ditch the creep. Lose the crazy accent.

Use the local slang like the rest of the girls
until we think of you-if we do at all-
as nothing special, Princess Whoozits, What's-Her-Face.

Let one month yield to the next unnoticed
and the leaves remain on the tree
and the birds repeat their song till it's only chatter.

For once, let us see the flaming azalea
for what it is, though it disappoint.
For once, let summer earn our love.

The Very Button

It is too much of joy, said the Moor. That's a point.
Perhaps the brightest diamond of bliss
comes bundled in the black cloth of our knowledge
of what it would mean to lose it. But who would choose
Heathcliff's way: Too happy, and yet not happy enough,
or throw one's lot in with noncommittal, just-this-side-of-thoughtful
Guildenstern: Happy in being not over-happy. Oh

measure as they may, all three
came to misery, as soon this bee will who now
is immersed in work, his reconnaissance among the dahlias,
while I lounge in the backyard in a plastic chair
with a pint of beer, the height of summer.

Clumsy world, clumsy me, I'm given to say,
though all day for no discernible reason
I've carried myself with delicacy
like a tray of crystal goblets, wine
wobbling at the brim. Of winter, what remains is only
a thin hoard of thoughts, my mind's platonic January,
a winter of symbols: man in coat and galoshes,
romping dog rolling in snow, leafless tree
a shape scissored from sky.

Today a lone crow,
quick black stroke on a fence post, is the one dark touch
that deepens the composition's color: the too blue, boundless sky,

the green
garden hose coiled, hanging on the toolshed, the bright red
hammering from the half-finished house up the street.

Suddenly, I'm compelled to forgive
my little cruelties toward myself and others,
to forget my daily litany of desires
denied or granted. I feel moved
to write no poem, not even this one, which, truth be told,

had to wait for a time less tranquil
to worry itself into being. I am sitting, I admit,
at a metal desk now. It is night.
The air is a little chilly for my liking
and my cup of coffee has cooled too quickly

and I am only remembering the warmth of the backyard
that needed, at the time, no explication, though if pressed
to utter some words on the occasion-
if the neighbor kid, say, held a squirt gun to my head
and all the swallows stopped their song and settled
on the tips of branches
and cocked their little heads toward me-

I might have said
on Fortune's cap we are the very button.

From a Shaded Porch

Mid-August. Crippling heat. Torpor.
Lungs weighed down by the stubborn air.
Sudden, hyperbolic, dog-startling storms

each afternoon, uninspired repertoire
of kettle- and window-rattling.
Who'd settle for an arrangement like this?

Who wouldn't? Too hot to do otherwise. Hard
to think twice or overachieve in such weather.
One is compelled to be dumb, to slump

on the porch until the season's gone, speaking
only now and again out of boredom,
abandoning sentences halfway through,

having forgotten their point. An old
pickup truck stutters by. Bad tail pipe.
Someone has to be somewhere.

Otherwise, hard to imagine moving.
Hard to conceive of packing the kids up
to cruise Route 82 and tour

the waxworks or roam the curiosity shop,
with its mummified Mayan princess,
pictures of bearded babies,

and prayers on a pinhead. Instead,
one sprawls, pleased to be stupid,
musing with approval

on the small, dark place between
the grass blades, on the potato bug
barely there beneath his cool stone.

The Hard Sciences

Whatever the mole thinks, I don't want to know.
Whatever is under the raccoon's mask,
whatever the rhododendron is selling-

its splash of white and rosy-purple
proof of some occult transaction
beneath the dampened soil: forget it.

And I won't starve or lose my way
hoping to stumble on God in the desert
or the dull, myth-charged dark of woods.

Instead, today I'm astonished
by the cloverleaf interchange-its functional
elegance. I'm charmed by the way

the railroad crossing arm's counterweight
works without a wasted ounce. I love
the shank of the anchor, the harvester's teeth

and auger, and how the crescent wrench
fits in my fist at one end, while the other
slips snugly around the bolt.

I might just stay up late tonight
crouched behind the dryer with my
Great Big Book of Home Repair,

letting the moon float by unnoticed
and knit his disapproving brow.
What use is the moon or Cassiopeia,

why connect Orion's dots
or muse upon the burning silence
of Mars or the Big and Little Dippers

unless by that we mean this ladle
that even now lowers an exquisite
crawfish bisque into my bowl

and this spoon, crafted exactly to match
the measure and contour of my desire,
that lifts it, steaming, to my mouth.


I was false to you, I admit,
when I clicked the radio off
as I drove alone to the hardware store
and gave my ardor over to the sure
seductions of your voice-it was not
you I wanted, not even your voice,
only the project of reconstructing
its music in all that traffic,
in the odd quiet of the car,
in the dark rehearsal hall of my skull.
I pondered the way your syllables
leap and skitter to follow
a nimble thought, and the way
you go suddenly silent, letting
a last word curl
and linger low to the ground
like smoke in rain. That morning
I needed a packing retainer ring
and washer for the bathroom faucet.
I did not need you, I thought-
only the allurement of memory
and imagination. It was a venial sin,
as this one is-

acting as though I could fill a hush, the nothing
of your not being here, with something
true to you, of my own making.
What was it this time, anyway?
Leap and skitter? Smoke in rain?

Late Meditation

Night again, and I'm not impressed:
the blurred cedar, blowzy in her black dress,
the bat's manic acrobatics-he tries too hard-
the hooligan raccoon routing in the brush,
and above all this the familiar, gaudy
glitter of the stars. Once I felt invited
to praise these things. Once I felt obliged.
Inviolable night, I said. Love's rustling curtain.
My hornbook, my slow ship to stow away on.

It took a long time to discover night
is a slate one writes on with the chalk
of desire. Look. The moon is thin as a dime.
It goes, and the sun comes up shrunken, low,
something to poke with a broom
and plunk, hissing, into a water bucket.
What I said, I'd like to take it back.

Late Winter Rain

Wind-wrenched pines, tantrum of rain
on the blacktop, flooded gutter aswirl
with sticks and paper cups-

thwarted desire in a riot-

late winter writhing with no body,
pummeling the air with no fists, importuning
without a tongue. For too long

a man remembers a woman

till her name is a nail driven
through the back of his mind, and he thinks it wise
not to speak of her, and her body

blurs, a confusion of shapes in shadow,

and the voice that sings in his head
isn't hers and is, and the face he loves
slips in and out of focus

like his own face, like the stranger's in the mirror

he shrinks from, watching sudden rain instead
spatter the walk, wind hurl itself blindly against a bush-
March, for weeks so tedious, so sensible,

beginning to make a fool of itself.

Lonesome Tableau

Tacked on the wall, a map of my sad luck,
places self-pity has planted its flag.
In the bed, my body, a book in its hand.

Excerpted from The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars
Copyright © 2003 by Chris Forhan.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

No Comment 3
Nothing Doing 4
December 1999 5
Billet-Doux 7
On an Old Melodrama 8
The Very Button 9
From a Shaded Porch 11
The Hard Sciences 12
Confession 14
Late Meditation 15
Late Winter Rain 16
Lonesome Tableau 17
The Actual Moon, The Actual Stars 19
Pastoral 21
Before 25
Sepia-Tinted 26
What's Left 27
Grave Robbing by Daylight 28
Names I've Been Called 30
For Now 31
It Rusts Iron and Ripens Corn 33
The Past 34
Sixteen 36
It Couldn't Have Been Helped, It Was for the Best 37
Pieta 38
Here 40
The Fidgeting 41
Got No Blues 42
Dumbwaiter to Heaven 43
Where the Past Went 44
Some Words from My Ghost 45
Erasure 49
In the Very Temple of Delight, Veil'd Melancholy 50
Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer 51
Keeping House Alone 53
Crepuscular 54
Failed Love Poem 55
Quiet Hours 57
A Nearer Distance 58
Deciduous 59
Getting There 60
The Coast of Oklahoma 61
My Gospel Is 62
Beside Myself 63
Summary and Invocation 64
Notes 65
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