Mountains by Moonlight

by James Seay

The postcard Harry Martin
could have gone to Mars
and not found a better full moon
for his Mountains by Moonlight.
It looks like a photograph
that’s been hand-tinted and stars added.
When they were young
our grandparents sent it home
wishing everyone was there in the space
for writing messages.
The matte finish softens the moonlight
to where it’s almost melancholy.
We don’t know whether to lie down
and embrace our aloneness together on Earth
or fly to the moon.
It’s pure nature,
not a model T or AAA sign in sight,
but we know that outside the frame
the technology’s in place for flight,
organ transplants, just about anything
you could imagine.
We know that beyond the mountains by moonlight
there is an architecture
our grandparents had leave finally
in the same way they left these mountains.
We know that when we draw arrows,
as they did, to hotel windows
it’s both to separate ourselves
from the sheer sameness of things my room was
and yet double the evidence
we were part of that sameness
my room was there.
Once for a magazine article
I located Scott Fitzgerald’s room
at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville
by standing in the parking lot
and counting up to the window
he had x’d on a postcard.
From the terrace he could see
the lights of Highland Hospital
where Zelda thought she was talking
to Christ and William the Conqueror and Mary Stuart.
Not even the mountains by moonlight
could put him to sleep,
so he took Luminal and Amytal
and a young married woman from Memphis.
Two years later he was in Hollywood.
We don’t know if it was silliness
or loneliness that prompted the postcard
he sent to himself at the Garden of Allah
where he had rooms.
When they came home they brought us honey
in small jars shaped like bears,
assembly-line tom-toms with rubber heads,
cities we could shake into blizzards.
They asked if we got the cards.
Next year it would be palm trees
and a crescent moon.
We couldn’t imagine them under those moons
with anything other than hearts
lifting to the broadened horizon.
We couldn’t imagine them as having ever doubted
the light as they found it.

James Seay was born in Panola County, Mississippi, in 1939. His publications include four collections of poetry (most recently, Open Field, Understory), two limited editions of poetry, and a documentary film about big-game hunting in East Africa, In the Blood (1990), co-written with the film’s director George Butler. His poetry has been selected for inclusion in some thirty anthologies. He has also published essays in general-interest magazines such as Esquire and in literary journals such as Antaeus. From 1987-1997 he served as director of the Creative Writing Program at UNC-CH. His honors include an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship (1996-1999) for excellence in undergraduate teaching.