Saturday, April 02, 2011

Still Life on Balcony

Because he knew I liked classical,
my boss gave me tickets to go hear
a performance at the Herbst Theater.
They were good seats, but I didn't
care for the contemporary classical
music they were playing that night.
At the intermission, I stayed out
on the balcony. I was too moody
for a glass of wine, so I sipped
my carbonated water and squeezed
the wedge of lime to flavor it.
As the others went back inside,
Pavlovian dogs responding to the chime,
I walked over to the stone railing,
and stared out over Van Ness.
The moon, almost full, loomed large
just over the dome of City Hall.
Then I realized I was not alone.
A man stood looking out as I had been,
his hair was mostly gray, cut short,
and he himself was trim and fit.
I swear it was Neil Armstrong.
I could feel my face flush in the cool
evening air, too cool for obscuring fog.
No, it couldn't be. Why would he be here?
A dozen questions fought for supremacy
in my mind. Do you still fly?
Were you scared on Gemini 8?
How did it feel to be the first man?
I looked from the moon back over
to the man. Was it really him?
And then I remembered
what I had read about him.
He was shy, reticent. Warm once
you got to know him, became his friend.
He was not aloof, but even
the other astronauts said they
didn't know what he was thinking.
And weren't a man's thoughts private?
I realized how much in temperament
he and I were alike. Would I want him
to come over here and ask me
what I was thinking? No, I wouldn't.
And then he walked past me, heading back
to the theater, and we just nodded silently
to each other as he passed. I looked back
to the moon and the distance there seemed less,
as the gulf between me and others
also seemed smaller, one that could be crossed.

* * * * *

This poem was written in response to a prompt at Big Tent Poetry to write about "standing on a balcony with someone you've read about in the paper".  I don't read the paper, but I am reading A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin.


  1. What an entertaining narrative poem! I love your story about the moon and the man (Neil Armstrong?). It's clever and fresh.

    And thank you for commenting on my poem!

  2. This prose poem has the feeling of a true story, all the more effective for being simply written. It kept my attention throughout, and I particularly liked the line: Pavlovian dogs responding to the chime,

  3. Anonymous2:33 PM

    Mr. W: Found you had posted at Writer's Island, too. I loved this. That thought-upon-thought of "Should I approach, or will he think I'm intruding?" The details about what his fellow astronauts thought about him were a nice touch.

    Ending up with musing on the proximity of the moon, lovely. And I, like Viv, really loved the Pavlov line. Nice work all around.

    Here's my April 2:

    Peace, Amy

  4. Marianne, thank you. I've been leaning more towards the narrative lately, away from the lyric. I liked your balcony poem; thanks for reading mine.
    Viv, thank you. I think you too noticed the narrative voice that has crept into my poems lately. Glad you liked that line; I almost cut it.
    Amy, thank you for your kind words. Okay, the Pavlov line stays in. And I'm glad you think the ending works; I was worried about how to end this one.

  5. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Very well-realized. Usually, poems with this many rhetorical questions tuen me off, but not here. Good stuff.

  6. Anonymous3:44 PM

    I liked the Pavlov line too. Is this a true story? It feels real. I love that the narrator put himself in Armstrong's shoes.

  7. Well written narrative piece, Mr. Walker.


  8. Ron, I hadn't thought about how many rhetorical questions there are here. I'm glad it's not too much, that it doesn't distract from the flow of the poem.
    Tilly, no, it's not true, just responding to the prompt. But I definitely identified with Armstrong when I read about him.
    Pamela, thanks. I'm going to have to try more of these narrative poems.

  9. I really like the way you got your head around this prompt and produced a beauty!

  10. SweetTalkingGuy, thank you. I struggled for a while with who it would be with me on the balcony.