A cup of fine tea: Donna Pucciani’s “Lunar Eclipse”

Donna Pucciani’s “Lunar Eclipse” [Read the poem here]
(Published in Issue #9 of Cha — first piece in our “Lost Teas” section)

–This post is co-written by Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback, both have not yet seen a red moon.
Donna Pucciani’s “Lunar Eclipse” begins with these opening lines: ‘The night of the red moon floats / on the breath of a drunken sailor / who cries out for vodka and his mother’ (L1-L3). What is the reader to make of the ‘red moon’ image? Although we can assume that the colour comes from the ‘lunar eclipse’ of the title, the red moon is also a natural phenomenon which was likely considered portentous by our ancestors and has collected many metaphorical meanings. For example, in the Bible, the blood red moon is associated with the coming of the Lord: ‘The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come’ (Joel 2:31, KJV). There is also the old sailor’s rhyme ‘red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning’. Whether the poet wanted the reader to connect the red moon with one of these particular meanings is uncertain. However, what is clear in the poem is that the sailor in question has been affected by this natural occurence and thus the red moon provides a powerful backdrop and catalyst for the poem’s events. The poet does not tell us the sailor’s interpretation of the eclipse, but it has clearly caused some primal emotional reaction in him. Drunk, he cries out for his mother out of fear or loneliness or both. Yet, the heaviness of the sailor’s mood and the oppressive red moon are lightened by the phrase ‘the red moon floats / on the breath of a drunken sailor’. Not only do these lines suggest just how drunk the sailor is (his breath could float the moon), they also add a sense of buoyancy to the possibly negative omen of an eclipse. If the red moon signifies the end of the world, for the sailor, it is perhaps also a moment of delight.

In the second stanza, we see that the eclipse may have foreshadowed a coming storm: ‘In cloud-purple foam, his ship tosses, / and after black waves pummel the rocks / sun-splinters dash a blue morning sky / with a handful of gulls’ (L4-L7). This description of the sailor’s world is effective, mixing both danger and beauty. For example, while ‘[S]un-splinters dash a blue morning sky / with a handful of gulls’ is a particularly captivating image, it is also one which may provide a sense of foreboding with its echo of the albatross from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798). This blend of contradicting impressions also suggests disorientation — for example, ‘cloud-purple foam’, ‘black waves’, ‘sun-splinters’. Whether we have really moved from night to morning, or whether the eclipse is disturbing the normal cycles of the day is not clear. Perhaps we are seeing the world through the sailor’s eyes, distorted by fear and drink. Or are we in the midst of the world’s end?

By the third stanza, the sailor has embraced the storm. Or perhaps the storm has embraced him, driven him into insanity. The poet writes: ‘He dreams of how to make thunder, / dances all night under the deck, / beats time on a barrel’ (L8-L10). Here, the mariner seems to associate himself with the storm, even dreaming up ways ‘to make thunder’, such as ‘danc[ing] all night’ in a kind of rain dance and ‘beat[ing] time on a barrel’. As the stanza progresses, he offers himself further to the storm and his delirium: he ‘captures the wind / in his ears, and with his sun-blistered lips / drinks up the storm drop by drop’ (L10-L12). Drinking and ‘drop by drop’ have several meanings. They refer to the sailor’s own drinking and they may also represent his submission to his own internal turmoil. But ultimately, they are part of the sailor’s attempt to completely incorporate the elements of the storm; he ‘captures’ the wind ‘in his ears’, instead of merely hearing it and he ‘drinks up the storm drop by drop’ with ‘his sun-blistered lips’. Apart from revealing the accumulated sea experience of the sailor, the echo of ‘sun-splinters dash a blue morning sky’ with the sailor’s ‘sun-blistered lips’ also adds to this sense of communion between the man and nature.

Perhaps in the end, the sailor, too, has been eclipsed; and has succumbed to the delight of his own personal apocalypse.
Donna Pucciani has published approximately three hundred poems in the US and UK, in such journals as International Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Pedestal. Her collections of poetry include The Other Side of Thunder,Jumping Off the Train (Orchard House Press), and Chasing the Saints(Virtual Artists Collective). She has won awards from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, among others, and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She currently serves as Vice President of the Poets’ Club of Chicago.

2 Responses to “A cup of fine tea: Donna Pucciani’s “Lunar Eclipse””

  1. Bob Bradshaw Says:

    Thanks guys! You have done a great job in tackling the themes of this poem….a very enjoyable read.

    The opening lines are the best:
    “The night of the red mooon floats
    on the breath of a drunken sailor”…

    There is a childlike quality to these lines…of seeing the world the way a child might see it, of seeing events in the natural world as the result of one’s own participation in it…

    Tammy and Jeff are right. This delightful image gives a buoyancy to a stanza that otherwise suggests fear(a sailor “who cries out for vodka and his mother”). Is there anything more frightening to a sailor than the thought of drowning in a storm?

    The second stanza transitions us to morning and the passing of the storm(a “handful of gulls” spotted on the shore). Again this double play of fear
    and buoyancy continues…”the black waves”…the “sun-splinters” and bluish sky.

    The simple words of this stanza to some degree reinforce the first stanza’s childlike quality. Its use of colors (purple foam, black waves, blue morning sky) also help.

    And Jeff and Tammy again are right about the last stanza, the sailor
    imitating a kind of rain dance, trying to “incorporate the elements of the storm”.

    Again, like a child the sailor tries to overcome his fears by playing at them, imitating them…the way a child might read or act out a fairy tale of monsters(animal or human). Why? Doing so gives the child the sense that she can control or overcome her fears.

    A child may even come to delight in the stories that were once so frightening to her. To savor them as this sailor now savors(“drop by drop”) the storms that are part of his life.

  2. t Says:

    From Donna:

    The poem was originally conceived as a kind of surrealistic character sketch against a backdrop of storms and a moon turned inside out. The poem eventually became a statement about the violence and beauty of life, and the odd ways in which we connect and disconnect with our own experience of it–we dance, dream, weep, drink, hurt, hallucinate, in turns, and become ourselves in God knows how many manifestations, which are reflected in the unusual occurrence of a lunar eclipse, the moon symbolizing madness in any and all of its forms. I never thought of the Bible per se, nor Coleridge, but the imagery is indeed apocalyptic. Shakespeare’s use of cosmic disorder, reflecting the disorder in human behavior (as in Macbeth, for example) was probably an unconscious influence on the poem.

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