Monday, August 27, 2012

Thinking of Neil Armstrong

During the summer of 1969, after my sophomore year of college, I was living at home on Long Island and working in the billing department of a commodities firm. I watched the moon landing with my parents. A few weeks later, on August 13th, I was heading out to lunch, completely unaware that the astronauts were being celebrated with a ticker tape parade on Wall Street, right around the corner from my office.

As I walked out of my building, I encountered a crush of people and could see ticker tape flying. I followed the throng and got a distant glimpse of the trio of astronauts—Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins. It was a thrilling moment, marked by the odd realization that I was almost the only woman in sight. Wall Street was then so dominated by men that even the secretarial pool couldn't make a dent in the impression that the street was men-only.

*          *          * 

On July 20, 1989, the twentieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, I was in my car listening to the radio. To mark the occasion, the host of the program played a recording of the famous words Armstrong uttered as he set foot on the moon's surface. I found myself unexpectedly moved and wrote the following poem:


One small step for man
watched by a billion eyes.
We shared a moment in space
but I failed to notice
at the time,
I thought only of
one man's glory
and what it would be like
if I were there.

Now, twenty years later,
listening to a ghostly replay,
I travel through time and space
moonbound, enfolded in the arms
of the universe,
entitled by my mere humanity
to be there,
I take a giant leap 
with the rest of mankind.

*          *          *

Later, I shared the poem with the members of my poetry workshop, a class led by the wonderful poet Kinereth Gensler. I was amazed to learn that the late husband of an elderly member of the class had been the physician for the astronauts throughout all the Apollo moon missions. She responded to the poem with great emotion, perhaps based more on the importance of the moon landings in her own life than on the content of my poem. But her reaction highlighted what is most important to me about writing—the ability to connect with others through my words.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


  1. What a lovely poem. I think the moon landing was one of those occasions where everyone remembers where they were at the Kennedy's death. I was sitting on the floor at my sister's, with my two young sons on either side. All of us, my mother, sisters and our immediate families, sat in complete silence--awestruck. Later my 7-year old son, stared up at the moon and said, "I just can't believe this." I think he voiced what we all were thinking.