Is it Tuesday? Every Tuesday a new poem appears in the box and on the blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poem 28 Tim Nolan

Old Astronauts by Tim Nolan

When they get together now—
they nod to one another—

don’t talk about the pitch
black of airless space—

don’t want to remember
the dust of the moon

in the treads of their boots—
they fall in bathrooms—

just like everyone else—
but from a greater height—

and before their heads
hit the tiled floor—

they float for awhile—
weightless seeming to dance

at the end of a cord—
one of them found

Noah’s Ark—or is just
about to—mostly they

remain dead silent—
whatever they saw and felt—

lost for generations—it’s that
they were led to believe

they really could escape—
the pull of the molten core

With Neil Armstrong’s death last week, this poem by Tim Nolan seems appropriate, doesn’t it?  I am especially enamored of the line breaks in this one, along with the use of the dash which is so often used (think of Dickinson) as a mark of punctuation that refuses closure. 

In the second stanza, the line break “the pitch/black of airless space” nicely disorients the reader. Pitch is a great word, full of possible meanings, and it looks like a noun there at the end of the line. But when we move to the next line, we see it was meant as an adjective for “black” and somehow Nolan has created in us a sense a bit like zero gravity. 

This is a sad poem, about—as many of the poems in this book are—how we understand the lives of those we love who are dying, have died. What did their lives mean?  The astronauts in the poem cannot articulate the exceptional experiences of their lives.  But they are not just like the rest of us, for even as they “fall in bathrooms” they fall “from a greater height.” And in that falling is the floating their bodies once knew in space. In this way, Nolan suggests that the experiences of these old astronauts are articulated by their bodies if not their words, even as their lives end. In such a notion is consolation.

The last lines mourn the fact of gravity, of our boundedness to this planet and a span of time. The astronauts “were led to believe/they really could escape--/the pull of the molten core.”  And notice again that dash. There is no escape, the poem tells us, but the speaker resists that knowledge, pushes forward again and again to keep the line/life going.  Punctuation can’t stop death. But it can put up a great fight. In this poem, and in many others in this wonderful collection, Nolan takes on hard subjects and wrestles with them, searching for solace and meaning as time continues to pass.

Good stuff.  Look for the book, And Then, coming soon from New Issues Press. 


  1. Beautiful poem. As you said, it does make me sad. Also reflective. Thanks, Cullen.

  2. Here's a vivid video of the poem: