Poetry

The night sky from the surface of Mars

Well, first off, it’s not home.

Your sharp intake of breath 

tells you that, as you clock the horizon-to-horizon stars 

from the Mars robot’s black-bubble swivelling eye

all is uncanny: the planet’s surface cold and empty as death,

and the surface of Mars like the ground 

in the video games you played

before Xbox, hanging around

with the big machines in some dim arcade

putting coins in and smelling sweat and spilled Coke and Blue Stratos cologne

glad for the darkness, 

throat swollen with crying over something at home,

and grimly traversing, like a minesweeper, some dystopic nightmare landscape

acres and acres of nothing 

running through it with a smoking gun, 

life energy running out before your eyes. 

 

6th of March 2021 and Facebook brings this footage:

the night sky from the surface of Mars, 

because wonders never cease, and the probe has the capability

to scan sky none of us will ever look up and see:

sky like you’ve spilled a bag of rice on a black floor

and of course there’s the scrabbling search a moment later

for something more; some fumbling release:

the small blue dot, somewhere in that glittering alien mess

which is us. 

 

No sign, and unfathomable, the distance this footage has come

and the swoop of panicked nausea that accompanies it,

like watching the Russian cosmonauts in their suits

crawling across the outside of their craft 

gloved fingers shaking as they desperately tried 

to replace some bolt on the hatch 

clinging on hard and nowhere to hide,

the umbilical line of their oxygen

snaking after them, out there in the black.

 

Space, the final frontier, sold to us in twenty-cent increments

as a dream of perfect and flawless escape:

climbing into a sticky chipboard arcade booth

feeding in coins for Space Invaders

wanting out, wanting anything except this, the awful truth

of your airless life, clinging to the vacuum-sealed door

waiting for the escape hatch to open like an iris.

‘Blue,’ said Yuri Gagarin, when they asked him 

how Earth looked to him from space,

‘I see the Earth’s surface through the window,

the sky is black. And circling the Earth, circling the horizon

is a very beautiful blue halo, 

that darkens as it moves away from the surface.’

 

Here, looking at the night sky from Mars

your lost craft still circling, glutted on infinite unrecognisable stars,

still waiting, with a new terror, for word of re-entry, 

it’s the sudden robotic camera swivel that reveals

an upside-down Milky Way

(the only familiar thing there, dear as a face)

which brings that tightening to the throat

some mark to remember home, appearing in space

like a flare in the dark maw of the universe. 

How beautiful it is! marvelled Gagarin

and you go outside, stumbling like a sleepwalker

to push your shivering hands into the dirt.

 

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