Friday poem: Don Paterson on Michael Donaghy

26 September 2014

This week's poem is 'The Present' by Michael Donaghy.

This sonnet makes a fine wedding poem, and I wish it were more widely employed. The two meanings of 'present' are beautifully conflated in the final couplet: the gift of the lover's hand is also a tense in which one can live. The first line is a great place to slip one past the reader, who generally isn't paying full attention yet. 'For the present there is just one moon' means, I suspect, 'there is one moon for the time being, in the lives that we currently enjoy on our monosatellite earth', with a hint of 'but who knows near what star we may be reborn?'

Don Paterson

The Present

For the present there is just one moon,
though every level pond gives back another.

But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon,
perceived by astrophysicist and lover,

is milliseconds old. And even that light's
seven minutes older than its source.

And the stars we think we see on moonless nights
are long extinguished. And, of course,

this very moment, as you read this line,
is literally gone before you know it.

Forget the here-and-now. We have no time
but this device of wantonness and wit.

Make me this present then: your hand in mine,
and we'll live out our lives in it.

Collected Poems by Michael Donaghy 'The Present' by Michael Donaghy is from his collection Shibboleth (1988) and appears in his Collected Poems published by Picador.

The commentary is taken from Don Paterson's book Smith: A Reader's Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy (Picador, 2014).

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