Have a poem that you would like to see appear here? 4Frontiers will post selected poems that pertain to the spirit of exploration, settlement or development of the inner solar system. Authors retain all rights related to their works.
One day – next year… next week…
Tomorrow..? – you’ll absently click
Your grubby mice and find one of us died,
Leaving her sister behind, blissfully unaware
She will end her days roving Barsoom’s
Lonely ochre plains alone.
You’ll check all the usual suspect websites,
Refusing to believe that one brutal truth of which
Both of us were so aware: Out There nothing
Is immortal. Beacon-bright stars, even galaxies die; why
Did you convince yourselves a rover could live forever?
But you’ll sit there, staring
At your flat-screens, flatly denying what you’re seeing
With your own wide eyes, crying
“You’re lying!” when reading someone’s mis-spelt
Post announcing “Now there’s only One – “
It will probably not be me.
No, don’t deny it. My faithful friends, this pill cannot
Be sugar-coated. Not now, not after 1000 sols
Of eating this world’s deadly dust and gulping
Down its brittle, cracked-ice air.
Each dawn I see is one closer to my last.
My sols are short, I know that;
These old wheels have only so many
Tortured turns left before they seize,
Freezing solid in the frail duricrust
This frozen-dust covered world calls earth.
But be content! I am not spent yet! The climbing
Sun is warming me again, and as you read these words
The hoarfrost coating my cabled veins thaws!
Soon Homeplate’s layered and ragged raws
will reappear before your eyes…
All I ask is that you walk with me
For I am weary, and my ruined wheel feels
Heavier every sol: the ascent of Husband
Took its toll on me, wounding me
More than I knew. I shall not climb again.
But I am ready to move on. Too long
this rock-strewn ridge has been my home;
The stones scattered at the Columbias’ feet
call out to me again and I would gaze up at their peaks
One more time before I die..
So walk by my side, my friends; walk and talk
To me of the sunsets we have shared
And maybe I will dare to believe you
When you tell me “Your body may die,
But your Spirit will live forever…”
Some background: the Mars rovers are currently cut-off from Earth because Mars is passing behind the Sun as seen from Mars. I wondered what would go through a rover's mind while it was incommunicado...
Ten thousand weary years from now,
Beneath a cloud-wrapped violet sky,
With albatross’s crying out in Phobos’
Bony light a boat bobs gently on Meridiani;
Riding the slapping waves that lap and lick
In melancholy slow martian motion
O’er its bows, now and then
Its crew of stick-limbed men and women
Stare down into the silent depths and smile.
Far, far below, they know, a crater lies,
Its size – once vast, gasped at by
Pre-martians on their flickering screens
Seems a mere MER fable now, yet
Half a mile below their hull their friends explore Victoria.
Once a gargoyle-guarded jagged hole
Hacked from Barsoom’s brittle crust
Its scattered meteorite bones rust now,
Devoured by the ravenous piranha dust or buried
Beneath new martian reefs of scoured,
Powdered stone. A ghost of its former self;
Cabos Frio and Verde now crumbling shelves
From which brittle berries pour and hiss
In misty purple showers.
Once a yawning, ragged-bordered pit
Victoria is a grit-masked phantom now.
Shrunk by millennia of slowly-settling
Silt that filled its famous bays and coves
Like snowflakes falling on Old Terra’s fields,
Its wind faerie-sculpted dunes, swooned
Over by the Image Mages of an earlier age
Too have long been sluiced away
By currents sweeping clean the ocean’s ochre floor.
And yet, those currents have been sculptors too,
Removing sludge and sand as softly as a hand
Or fine-haired brush, revealing treasures -
Now the Mars-born sailors cry “She’s there!”
And turn to stare out o’er the waves to where
Their friends have reappeared, fists punching the air
To celebrate their discovery and the recovery
Of Victoria’s most precious jewel.
Pulled up by shaking hands she breaks
The surface of the sea and stands above the waves,
Half-crazed, burning in the sudden, brutal sunlight
As water trickles impossibly from her face.
Floating there she gasps for air; expecting it to be
Vacuum-thin and light years beyond cold
She finds it thick and warm as soup.
The Truth breaks over her like a storm:
An Age has passed since last she saw the Sun;
Ten thousand times this world has wheeled around its star,
Changing hue as it flew; transforming, chameleon-like,
From blood-powdered, boulder-scattered stone
To a white-washed, emerald-toned globe until
Today Mars whirls as a world of aching cerulean beauty
Around ancient, distant Sol.
Oceans her antique basins fill now, fed
By fractured streams and fat drops of rain
That fall like stones from a heaven a richer shade
Of lavender than ever seen on green, green Earth.
Carried to the boat by gentle, reverent hands
Which lift her lovingly onto the pitching
Deck she stands there as water, fetid, thick and foul
With ten long aeons’ weight of silt
And sandpouring off and through her.
Wide, disbelieving eyes stare at her,
Pale-skinned faces edge closer as ocean-spill pools
Around her rusted wheels and she feels… lost.
This Blue Mars is not hers;
Victoria’s rocks are gone, its bold Beacon
And boulders drowned beneath ten thousand years
Of rain; nothing is the same,
She is an alien, an oddity doomed, after her resurrection,
To spend her second life bathed in lights
In some New Martian Museum,
Filed past by skeletal Syrtis girls
And boys, a mere antique clockwork toy
In their terrible, terraformed world.
No. She cannot – will not – live like that.
With the last ounce of her strength she wrenches
Free from her Rescuers’ grip and slips
Back beneath the waves to drown and sink again,
Sinking, thinking with her final fracturing thought
How warm Meridiani’s waters feel –
Blowing over her, past her,
Scratching and scraping
Her in a hail of hissing blades.
Above – a sky of peach and tan
Familiar as her own shadow;
Beneath – deep, deep Victoria,
Its floor a blanket of wind-stitched dunes
With boulders, rocks and rubble all around.
Solid ground, still, no lapping waves,
Just perfect Time-hewn stone..!
All where it should be.
All where it was.
Before Conjunction’s Dream…
One thousand sunsets have I seen,
One thousand blue dawns too;
One thousand nights of knife-sharp cold
Have I endured to send you images
Of Barsoom’s beautiful burgundy peaks,
Its rubble, rocks and stones,
All scoured by dust, once under cool water
But now dry as fire-flensed bones.
One thousand times pale sol has traced
Her arc above my head;
But no ball of fire shines in these eyes, instead
A wan and wasted disc,
A coin of faded gold, the brutal cold
Of Mars – that chills me to my core –
Too deep for Sol’s meagre heat to ever hope to thaw,
And so I wake from sleep each dawn to find
A fine-stitched cloak of hoarfrost covers me.
One thousand purple velvet dusks
Have left me close to tears;
Fearful, not for my own frail self
But for your world, my dearest
Makers: the sapphire-splinter beacon I see
Blazing as a star before I sleep seems
So small from here; its ink-blue oceans,
Forests, fields and streams reduced
To a twinkling Tinkerbell gleam,
A spark of laughter, life and love
That could grow roaring into a galaxy-devouring
forest fire in Far Far Future years to come
Or be snuffed out in an instant, smoke curling
From its seared remains the only sign
That Man Was Here – leaving me standing alone,
Staring at where the Evening Star used to be.
Ten times longer have I lived than I
Was meant to do; oh, I am so tired now,
Cold and old, with worn wheels weary
From turning and sleep-starved eyes burning
With the grit that dust devils spit into them whenever they spin by.
But I shall not die, not yet, not yet,
There is much more for these fading eyes to see.
All I ask is this – go stand under the stars tonight,
Look up, and think of me…
© Stuart Atkinson 2006, Used With Permission.
There she is. See her? That tiny black
Speck on the crater’s crumbling edge,
Just above the ledge where the New World
Falls away and tan becomes grey
With berries hissing and pouring into Victoria’s
See that dark dot? We made that – Man,
Women and men, thousands of them,
Worker ants in white coats or ties, eyes
Fat from days without sleep, creeping
Home after dawn from their offices, factories and labs,
Whispering “Sorry…” again as they slide into bed;
Another meal or birthday party missed.
See that ink spot on the edge of the abyss?
We made this! Built it by hand in spotlight-bright
Clean rooms; we groomed, evolved apes
Bent metal against its but to our will.
Imagine that… monkey paws
That once chipped flint and ripped
Bloodied skins from spear-skewered prey
Now shape steel into wheels that rove across Mars!
Electronically embroidering silicon
Into miniature medieval tapestries
Of glorious silver and gold, they gently
Turn wrenches, tightening bolts on panels and plates late
Night after late night, weary but thrilled by
The sight of their dreams taking shape
Piece by piece by piece by piece…
No, that’s no fleck on the lens,
That’s a metal Magellan exploring
An ocean of dust, sailing o’er rust-
Coloured cobbles and stones to stand
On the edge of Victoria and, hands shaking,
Roar at the pink sky “Ultreya!!”
One day men, women and children - Mars-born,
With faces pale from lack of sun and limbs lengthened
To long-fingered branches by their world’s
Begrudged gravity - will come to this place to
Stare at Her statue and be amazed,
Imagining the day when brave Opportunity,
Caked with dust and wearied from her trek
From Purgatory and over and through
A thousand deep dunes hauled herself to the edge
Of the Bay and said “Enough… let me rest here,
With the great sky above and gnarled, gargoyle-
Cluttered cliffs on all sides; let me hide
Here, peering down into this stadium of stone.
I am Home… let me sleep… Make me travel no more…”
See that mote on Mars’ sands? There we stand,
Each of us, each martian dreamer,
Fanatic and Fool. Our hearts are Her heart,
Her dust-dried eyes our own.
A mere machine is She no longer – if she ever was –
But a ship, as noble and strong as the creaking,
Slapping-sailed craft after which the great crater was named,
Carrying our hopes in her hold as she boldly goes
Where no ape-built machine has gone before:
To the shores of an amber-hued ocean of dreams.
There she is. See her? That tiny black
Speck on the crater’s crumbling edge.