Forty years ago this Monday, July 20, 1969, I watched the moon landing. I was on the night shift in a hospital, in the sun room. There was a full, or nearly, full moon that night, clearly visible through the window. It was around 11 PM Eastern Time. On the television screen astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking, bounding on the moon. Neil had spoken his famous line: “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” I seem to remember hearing those words, with the article “a”, though that could be a trick of memory. It was his intention to say “a man.” There was the real moon through the window, and there was the real moon live from the moon. It was fantastic.

I wrote the poem “To James Wyeth On Seeing A Print Of Moon Landing” in the early 1970s after viewing a black-and-white reproduction of the painting by James Wyeth, my contemporary. You could call it a sympolic kind of painting. By that time, the artist had already done portraits of famous individuals including President John F. Kennedy, who had challenged us in a speech before Congress in 1961 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade and safely return him to Earth. And, by golly we did it. We beat the Russians. Nothing before or after in the space program has matched that accomplishment.

I typed up the poem on nice paper, put a black matte frame around it, and mailed it to the painter. He replied on his stationary: “You have done in words what I attempted in paint.” High praise, indeed.

To James Wyeth On Seeing
A Print Of Moon Landing

Did you too see the feat and feel a blow,
Boggling for a moment thinking art?
What painting made on Earth could hope to show
The distance, risk and detail of each part?

Whatever, your full moon glows here and now,
Calm lantern satellite above the deep.
Stars vaguely bright and near as dreams allow
Suggest the stanchions watch that also keep.

Your title tells enough of cosmic news.
Their shots that come to mind are mute or boast.
Broad moby sheen and surf will challenge crews
To try their luck along a rocky coast.

By Hudson Owen. This poem is included in my Selected Poems 1967 –2007.