7 12 2008


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On The Comet

22 09 2014


Imagine exploring here, bouncing across these dusty plains,
Your soot-stained boots crump-crumping down again and again
As you worked your way ‘round boulders big as barns,
Leaping off ledges, hopping off outcrops,
Your footprints a Space Age Oregon Trail leading back
To where you landed your fragile craft,
Invisible from where you stand, half hidden behind countless
Hoarfrost-coated hills…

Imagine standing in the shadow of a shark tooth spire;
Blocking out the blazing, molten silver fire
Of the Sun, feeling the ground rumbling beneath your feet
As the Sun’s growing heat thaws the comet’s frozen soul,
Sending house-sized boulders rolling in slow motion
Down charcoal-coated slopes, mosquito clouds of dust
Pushing ahead of them as they silently slide, slide, slide
To a halt beneath the ebony sky…

Imagine walking through this land of standing stones,
Where the far horizon, with its coal-black Matterhorns of snow
Is so near you feel you could reach out and touch it
But daren’t, lest dragon claw thorns of ancient ice
Sliced through the fabric of your glove, flash freezing your hand
Before you even had time to realise what you had lost;
Before you could look down and scream at the sight of your fingers
Crystalising into glittering popsicles of mulled wine blood…

Imagine standing here, gazing up at the sky,
At a fragile metal butterfly passing overhead,
Seeing a tiny, shining spark spin away,
Dropping down towards you: little Philae,
Falling, falling, destiny
And her place in history calling…

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2014


27 08 2014

Comet_on_17_August_2014_-_NavCam c


We always thought of your kind as icily beautiful.
Pale princesses wistfully wandering the heavens,
Long veils flowing behind you as you smiled down
At the bewitched mortals sighing far, far below.
Or you were ghost ships, silently sailing through the stars,
Blown on the solar winds, sighing softly
As you passed Earth for the thousandth time
Since you first tacked in towards the Sun.

But while some of you grew to greatness,
Unfurling bright, twisted ribbon tails across the lavender twilight,
Fluttering like pennants flying from Camelot’s tallest towers
Most of you were never seen by eye alone;
Even gazing at you through telescopes
Only ever showed you as out of focus stars,
A gritty chalk dust speck rubbed with a fingertip
Onto the blackboard of the sky…

But now, with your concealing veil pulled away by ROSETTA
You are revealed, we see you as you really are.
You are a bizarre, gnarled, chewed-on… thing;
Two twisted, ancient masses of ice and dust,
Thrust together who knows how many millennia ago,
A scarred neck left connecting your cratered lobes.
Princess? No; more a coal-black Quasimodo,
Hunchbacked after merciless torture on Time’s rack
Left you mutated, misshapen, like some nightmarish creation
Dali and Giger drew on a beer mat as they sat, drunk,
In the corner of Heaven’s gloomiest bar,
Now spinning slowly, slowly in the Great Dark…

Looking at your pixellated portrait I wonder
“How can anything which shines so beautifully in the sky
Be so ugly?” How can such a black,
Maggot-gnawed apple core grow such a glorious tail?
How can something like… that
Hypnotise even the most tired and weary-eyed stargazers?

But if I look closely…
There is a barren beauty about you,
In the way shark tooth shadows are cast behind
Your twisted towers and spires of filthy ice;
In the way aeons of dust – grey as cremation ash
Spilling from a loved one’s shattered urn –
Has buried your craters, smothering them
Until only ghostly smoke rings remain…

Soon you will awake.
As the nearing Sun’s warmth begins to bake you
Comet quakes will shake boulders
From your crumbling cliffs, sending stones
Bouncing and rolling down your snowy slopes,
Ploughing furrows through the dust
For OSIRIS’ eagle eyes to harvest from above,
And then, finally, after centuries of wondering what you are,
After ten thousand lifetimes of fearing
Your fleeting appearances in our skies
We will look straight into your eyes
And know you.
With your glacial breath on our faces
We will stare into your ancient soul
And Know You.

Comet: plague-carrier! Harbinger of doom!
Destroyer of Empires! Murderer of Kings and Queens –
No. No more; now we know you as an icy orca,
Prowling the deep sea between Sol’s worlds,
Surfacing briefly to sing and shine before diving
Down into the cold, ebony dark halfway to the nearest star
To sleep, and dream of thawing, golden sunbeams
Once more…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014


14 06 2014

23 new









Apart from insomniacs and vampires, only a few ever see them.
Most glimpse them accidentally, with no idea what they are:
Deafened, dehydrated clubbers, weaving their way home through litter-strewn streets
See them shining through gaps in the trees;
Sleep-deprived shift-workers, their body clocks broken beyond repair,
Catch sight of them out the corners of their tired eyes;
Farmers, hauling open screeching barn doors, pause a moment
To look at them glowing in the east,
Dragging tendrils of silver over the still-sleeping hills
Before heading back to their sheep…

But some deliberately hunt them down.
Coffee-drenched, they dare to dream of
A northern sky sprayed a dozen shades of strange;
Fight to stay awake at the end of a tiring day, hungry to see
The fabled “mysterious NLC” shining above their streets,
Their hills, their town again:
As midnight approaches, Special Forces sky-watchers
Armed with cost-a-month’s-salary cameras,
Pockets stuffed full of ammunition – spare memory cards and batteries –
Creep out of their homes, leaving loved ones alone, to chase their prey.
Eager eyes scanning the dusk they rush to their favourite places,
Faces bathed in pale starlight as what passes for “night” in these summer months
Falls, a few distant suns flickering above as they plant
Their tripod standards on the ground -

And wait…

Most nights the sky around Capella remains beautifully blank,
And they wander home thanking the Universe for nothing,
Cursing it for teasing them, tempting them,
Making fools of them. Again.
But other nights….
At first they see mere whispers of light,
Pale blue-white lines scratched on the purple twilight by invisible cats claws;
Graffiti scrawled on the northern sky by some unseen hand
As the land below, aglow with a million streetlights, sleeps.
But then they grow, a soft slow-motion explosion pushing outwards
At the sides, expanding, blossoming, climbing higher,
All the time brightening, brightening,
Until eventually the sky from west to east appears ablaze
With a forest fire of cold blue flame;
Then, if the universe is kind, the NLC truly come alive,
And those watching in the small hours see a tapestry of curls, whirls and swirls
Stitched from the finest silver thread draped above the distant hills and trees -
Hard not to feel a sense of dread staring at that shining cobweb,
Imagining a throbbing, celestial Shelob squatting inside…
Now the work begins. Shutters click, again and again,
Frame after frame exposed as the NLCs’ glow casts pale shadows
Behind the few who braved the damp and dew
To pursue the elusive clouds.
Time slipping through their cold fingers like sand,
Their cold hands deftly swap lenses in the dark:
They know their favourite 18 mill will show the whole display
In all its glory, looking like a stargate opening above the Earth;
Their trusted 200 mill will pick out individual waves in the sapphire surf,
Rolling, roiling star-smoke blown by winds on the very edge of space.
…and then the inevitable Fade.
Yawning, the watchers can only stand and stare
As dawn’s golden fingers enviously tear their beloved clouds apart
Until nothing remains, and it’s time to head back home –
Not to sleep, as they know they should, but to load their photos onto laptops
And make them come to life, teasing out each subtle smoky line
Until RAW images and memories match.
Then their work will be done, another hunt will be complete,
And they will rest.

…until the Sun goes down, and the hunt begins again…


© Stuart Atkinson June 2014


Pillinger Point

25 05 2014





One day martian children will play here.
Long limbed like storks; pale-skinned Sun-starved albinos
Skipping from stone to stone,
Hop-scotching along Murray Ridge, laughing and screeching,
Kicking up clouds of carrot-hued dust with their scuffed boots
As po-faced Terran pilgrims, following the Opportunity Trail,
Look on, ticking off “Visited on Sol” rocks one by one
As they slog up Solander,
Checking the maps on their HUD Apps
Without really seeing a thing…

…While over there, perched on Pillinger Point like a pair
Of white doves, young lovers will sit in silence,
Drinking in the view through weary but wide-eyes;
New arrivals besotted with Barsoom since birth,
Their umbilical cords to Earth sliced cleanly through
The moment their feet hit the ground.
Ares is their new – and only – home now,
And laughing in disbelief at the burnished bronze beauty
Burning all around them they’ll sit, hand in hand,
On the glittering cinnamon sand, watching their shadows
Stretch across the landscape as the shrunken Sun falls
Behind the faraway hills, ignoring the sparkling sapphire
Evening Star to thrill instead at the sight
Of Phobos climbing silently up out of the Turner twilight…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014


2 02 2014

For almost half a century, every time
I read the word “Supernova” I imagined
Standing outside, on a cold, clear night,
Seeing a hole punched in the sky;
The hide of heaven punctured, allowing the light
Of a more brilliant, more beautiful universe to come surging through,
A Niagara Falls of photons
Brighter than any Full Moon.

After all, those woodcuts, engravings and paintings on cave walls
All showed a spectacular sight:
Something beyond bright, a cosmic Maglite shining
Right in Earth’s eye,
And as the years passed I grew impatient to see
Something like that above me,
A freshly-lit cosmic beacon burning above my town,
Above my hills and trees…

In my mind’s eye I always saw my
First supernova shining amongst the stars of winter.
High, somewhere above Orion,
Its icy rays slicing through the Pleiades, putting nearby
Rigel and Sirius to shame; I pictured
A celestial welding flame so insanely bright
It would cast swaying shadows behind me as I stood there
Staring, staring…

…but instead what I saw was a barely there
Pinprick peeking through a puff of smoke,
A mere silvery mote – even when magnified a dozen times –
Off to one side in a telescope’s eyepiece on a night
Of scudding clouds and mist-dimmed stars,
As I stood in the mud, in a car park.

Tempting… so, so human… to groan “Oh, is that it?”
But grossly unfair.  Remember, I scolded myself, there, so hard to see
Through the fur on the Great Bear’s shoulder,
A star has blown itself apart..!
Not today, but, as the poster says,
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
So far away the light entering our eyes tonight
Set off when Mankind still swung from trees
And the delight of walking upright was just a dream,
Ten million years from waking…

So don’t dismiss that distant fleck of light too soon.
That’s the Universe bursting a balloon
Behind our backs, laughing as we run, stumbling
To our telescopes, desperate to know more,
Desperate to drink in its beauty while trying hard
Not to think of the fate of its family of worlds,
Or wonder if that star had been a civilisation’s Sun
Before it turned itself inside out,
Its neutrino-drenched death met with the terrified shouts
And screams of billions of beings as the ground
Beneath their feet blistered then shattered,
Their planets’ dusty remains scattered like crushed dry leaves…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014

Below: a photo of the supernova taken by myself at the Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre at Ennerdale on Jan 31st 2014

SN arrow




24 01 2014

…and then, suddenly,
A candle flame of consciousness
Quivers in the darkness
And Rosetta is awake.

At the start, the pulse of her electronic heart
Barely a flutter, but enough
To rouse her from her drowsy sleep
And pull her out of her dreams.

Slowly, slowly, memories return…
The rust-encrusted globe of Mars burning
Up ahead, Barsoom looming
Like a bloated red giant star before she swooped
Over its pole, Osiris’ single eye briefly catching sight
Of timeless clouds and craters
Through gaps in the great solar arrays
Before Ares fell behind, never to be seen again…

Lutetia – old, cold and grey,
Swimming up out from the depths of space
Like a lone, stone shark before sinking back into the Dark…
Earth gleaming a million different hues
Of emerald green and sapphire blue,
Its disc shrinking to a fingernail-clipping thin
Crescent so beautiful it would have reduced
Any window-crowding crew to tears…

All that is behind her now.
Darkness crowds in on all sides
As she rubs the sleep from her eyes,
Feeling the solar wind whispering o’er her wings,
Stretching and yawning,
Hearing her comet, and destiny, calling…

© Stuart Atkinson 2014


19 01 2014

Where did you come from, little one?
That plate of rock was bare, I swear,
Then suddenly you were there,
Basking in the sunlight, right where
We would see you. Just sitting there,
Looking up at us,
Like Dug in “Up”,
Grinning, tail wagging and sweeping
The dust away as we gazed down at you
Wondering  “What the..???”

So many theories whizzing around the Web
About your origin there’s almost no room left
For gifs of sleeping kittens’ twitching ears
Or Kim Kardashian’s rear.
Did you really fall from the sky?
A meteorite?  Hmmm. Seems unlikely that
With all of Barsoom to choose from
You’d land barely a hand’s width away
From the most curious robot
On the planet, but who knows?

Others cry “Ejecta!”
Could they be right? Did you really fly
Here after being blasted from the ground
By some rock falling at the speed of sound
Out of the sky?
If so, a brand new crater lies nearby,
Surrounded by others just like you –
A second Christmas for geologists
Who would give anything to have the rover roll
Up to its jagged rim to see what hides within…

Perhaps you were simply tiddly-wink flicked here,
Kicked up by the rover itself
To fall a short distance away?
It’s possible. After all, unlike her brash big
Sister’s wounded wheels, increasingly ripped and torn
By a Banth’s raking claws,
MERB’s are still whole
And easily strong enough to scuff
A rogue rock up off the ground,
To be found nearby next Sol…

But I wonder… Had Opportunity  looked up quickly
Would she have seen mischevious martian kids
Standing nearby, caught red (or green?) handed,
Frozen to the spot, ready to throw the stone?
Are they still there, hiding behind her,
Biding their time, daring each other  to try again?

© Stuart Atkinson 2014




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