The Great Moon Hoax, 1835

by Faith Shearin Issue: Spring 2016
Published in the New York Sun, this was the story of
Sir John Herschel, who traveled to Cape Town
and set up an observatory with a twenty foot telescope;
through his magnificent lens with magical capabilities
he could see the surface of the moon
where, he said, bipedal tailless beavers lived
in huts and bore their young in their arms. Inside
a ring of red hills he named the Ruby Colosseum
he spied man-bats with hairy faces
having sex beside rivers. The moon had unicorns
and curly-antlered antelopes, an amethyst crystal
ninety feet high, an abandoned temple built
of polished sapphire. Alas, Herschel’s lens caught
the sun’s rays and melted; even after repairs
it could not see as it had before. The moon of my
childhood was a bald thing, full of craters: a place
where men in white suits planted flags.
Is it possible to bring back Herschel’s moon?
I want to know, for instance, how the beavers
discovered fire, and how the man-bats grew
increasingly beautiful, their wings like the wings
of angels in paintings. Why was the abandoned temple
surrounded by a yellow metal that had been fashioned
to resemble a mass of flames? I don’t want
the truth; I want a hydro-oxygen microscope
that illuminates distant realities, an amphibious
creature, with spherical form, rolling across
a pebbly beach. Leave out the greedy
editor, the satire, the fools who, like me,
were excited by 38 imaginary species of trees. 


Faith Shearin

Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question(May Swenson Award), The Empty House (Word Press),  Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees (SFA University Press.) and Orpheus, Turning (Broadkill River Press). Recent work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review and Poetry East and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her work also appears in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poets and in Good Poems, American Places. She lives with her husband, her daughter, and a small, opinionated dachshund in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.