Strange, Distant, Shadowed


Artwork by Hannah Rae Powell

When I was a child my parents built me a bedroom like a crow’s nest perched on top of our renovated bach in the beaches of the north shore of Auckland, Aotearoa. It faced the ocean and due east, and it was mostly glass, and it had a built-in bench seat set against trash-yard windows that opened onto the flat metal roof, and it was there that I spent many many nights gazing full-faced at the moon. I was a mystical and self-absorbed child and enjoyed many indulgent hours of reading loosely feminist fantasy fiction and, as such, was fully convinced that the moon herself existed for me and me only. You would find this hard to dispute if you, too, had spent formative nights bathing in the cool white light splashing down through the glass roof of your tiny teen grotto. The moon was beauty, solitude, mystery, and cool feminine comfort. She was also already embedded in my burgeoning worldly awareness from a very young age. My mother used to read me a series of children’s books translated from Spanish about a dark-haired, dark-eyed, devilish little girl called Munia. My favorite was Munia and the Moon. In it, the little girl is so taken by the reflection of the big white moon in a night-time river that she dips a bottle into the surface and takes the enchanted moon water home, intending to drink it and become as beautiful as the moon herself. The moon is appalled at the theft, and appears, coolly enraged, at Munia’s window to demand she return the scoop now missing from her face. In the book’s illustrations, the moon is rendered in spare and confident watercolors: a gigantic imposing presence in every spread, with a haughty, regal face floating serenely in the middle of her white expanse. I was absolutely captivated by the thought of drinking the moon, and becoming something like her. 

The greatest argument, in my opinion, for the existence of a divine designer, is the fact that—purely by chance—the sun and the moon appear in Earth’s sky to be exactly the same size. Thus, eclipses. Thus the easy binary counterpart in myth and religion: man, the sun, who brightens the sky; and woman, the moon, his reflective counterpart, who comes along and darkens the world. I’ve been reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin recently, sinking down with relief into her easily murky speculative worlds of multiplicity and mutability. Her work has always seemed to me the practical application of ecriture feminine—women’s writing. Le Guin embraces the darkness and the indeterminacy, rejects positivism and abstraction and asks instead for groundedness, shadow, simultaneous and contradictory belief, shades of gray. I think of the moon again: shifting in and out of sight, half of her always in darkness, half-known, half-unknowable. The moon’s changing face, its obvious affinity with the menstrual cycle, its refusal to make itself known, all associate her indelibly with the inscrutable feminine in the Western consciousness. In his Dictionary of Symbols, Juan Eduardo Cirlot cites Krappe observing that the moon is the “Master of women”, a being that “does not keep its identity but suffers ‘painful’ modifications to its shape…” Doesn’t that sound familiar. Convenient. A heavenly body that exerts its force upon the half of us down here who are intolerable bodily, tragically embodied, always becoming. Poor us: “Only that which is beyond the moon, or above it, can transcend becoming,” he says. But isn’t becoming joyful? Why would one want to transcend the bodily joy of coming into oneself? Particularly if womanhood means becoming something like the moon, a body in close concert with the night, “maternal, enveloping, unconscious and ambivalent because it is both protective and dangerous”. I still long to become like that. Maybe it’s because the moon appears to be Woman writ large—large, celestial, ominous and untouchable—that men have been obsessed for so long with her conquer. Eating her (she’s made of cheese), walking upon her (and a race to get there, no less), writing their names on her body and sticking her with flags. As though any mark upon her body could affect the truth of herself, the strength of her symbol. I am no longer interested in physical form. I am especially no longer interested in femininity as bound to physiology. I am interested in femininity in action. Like ecriture feminine, which really has nothing to do with the gender of the author and everything to do with the manner in which a text is written, I want femininity as a verb, as a word in the air, as something untouchable. The beautiful Le Guinian paradox is that the moon’s pull on the waters of life rouse mysterious rhythms in us; remind us that we are bodily and earth-bounded, rather than heady and abstract, and so even as I want my womanhood to disappear into the spoken ether like moonlight I am reminded that to be human is to exist in two states at once, or more, tugged upward by the moon’s gravity and downward by our own. 

When I learned about the Super Blood Moon I marked the date and time in my diary and counted down the days. That evening I stood with my partner and my best friend, our necks craned to watch the ruddy moon appear and disappear and reappear between swift clouds. Red, strange, distant, shadowed, lovely and unknowable. A mystery we have visited, and one that still mystifies us: a beacon to becoming.