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… to my poetry website! Just click on one of the tabs above to read my astro-poems about Mars, the Mars rovers, and more.

If you’re more interested in the universe and the beauty of the night sky, this page “Out There” is a good place to start…

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Another Storm

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I’ve been here before.

Many sols ago I rolled to a halt

As the sky went strangely dark,

The Sun fading to a dull red spark.

I just waited that storm out,

Watched the Sun come and go,

Ghostly clouds of dust blowing over it

Day after dreary day

Until eventually they drifted away

And I finally felt Sol’s warmth on my back again.

 

But this feels… different;

This time I am scared.

I had no chance to prepare!

Suddenly the barely-there air was syrup-thick with fines

And I looked up to see a tsunami

Of cinnamon rolling across the sky,

Devouring the Sun like a dragon,

Day turning to night before my stinging Pancam eyes –

 

So now I sleep. But the evil dust

Invades my robot dreams;

In the darkness I see no electric sheep,

But as the tick-tock of my systems clock

Echoes down Perseverance Valley

Powder-puff grains rain down on me silently.

I feel each and every one as it lands,

Snowflake-soft, and as the wind wafts past my wheels

I feel helpless and alone.

 

Back on the world I once called home

They sit and wait for me to wake,

Staring at their tab-cluttered screens,

Fingers tapping impatiently,

Countless cups of coffee left untouched

As they whisper “Hush…”,

Imagining that if they just listen hard enough,

Through the moans and groans of the storm

They’ll hear me yawn…

 

 

© Stuart Atkinson July 2018

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Independence

 

Note: this is a transcript of a short video clip recovered from Mars in 2094, after the end of the War of Independence. Experts agree that the video was shot by one of the Year 3 class from Tharsis Academy but have been unable to establish their identity.

The video, known as “Y3-X1”, begins with a panning shot, showing a group of native martian children, very tall and slender, seated in a rough circle around an adult figure, presumed to be their teacher. The group is sheltering inside an inflatable dome, an emergency shelter of some sort, and are wearing full EVA suits with their helmets on their laps or within easy reach. The suits look worse for wear, dusty and dirty, with many repair patches visible. Outside the shelter it is night: the martian landscape is in darkness, but the heavens are beautiful, ablaze with stars, and the Milky Way is airbrushed across the sky. Here and there other lights can be seen moving slowly across the sky – ships from Earth taking part in the naval blockade of Mars meant to cripple its fledgling independence movement. Occasionally sparks of light glitter in the sky, followed moments later by a flash of light on the horizon beyond the shelter and a shaking of the camera, as missiles fired from the ships strike unseen targets on the surface. With each flash and rumble the children appear more frightened. The teacher, smiling reassuringly, begins to speak. They all reply as one.

 

Children – when will Mars be free?

“When Olympus is an island,

Set in a shining sea,

Then she will be free…”

When will Mars be free?

“When white waterfalls pour

Down Marineris’ walls,

Then she will be free…”

When will Mars be free?

“When Hellas is a lake

And we can play on its shore,

Then she will be free…”

When will Mars be free?

“When her vast dusty seas

Are covered with trees,

Then she will be free…”

When will Mars be free?

“When rain falls from the sky

On a warm summer’s night,

Then she will be free…”

When will Mars be free?

“When her sunsets are red

Instead of cold blue,

Then she will be free…”

A distant ‘boom’ is picked up by the mic, and the camera shows the children exchanging nervous glances. The teacher smiles at them reassuringly and continues.

When will Mars be free?

“When Earth lets us be

As great as we can be,

Then she will be free – “

 

Another ‘boom’ sounds, louder this time, and the camera shakes more violently. The children are shown holding hands, looking more frightened. The teacher continues.

 

When will Mars be free?

“When we can watch Phobos rise

Without tears in our eyes,

Then she will be free – “

 

A much louder ‘boom’ sounds, coming from a closer impact. The camera shakes very violently and shows a juddering view of some of the children clutching at each other, very scared. The teacher continues, louder and more defiant than ever. But when the camera zooms in on the teacher’s face it is streaked with tears.

 

When will Mars be free?

“When babies stop crying,

Afraid of the sky,

Then she will be free – “

 

There is a brilliant white flash which briefly overwhelms the camera’s sensors, followed a split second later by a deafening BOOM. The camera lurches violently, recording screams and a fleeting image of small figures silhouetted against blood red flames, then the picture dissolves into static before going blank.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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War

 

Just as day follows night,

Sunset follows sunrise

And dusk follows dawn

War will follow us to Mars.

Small disputes at first; countries

Clashing over mining rights to ice

Or water, minerals or ore.

But one sol all-out war will rage

Across the world named after that gore-drenched

Roman God. Blood will flow briefly down the slopes

Of Olympus and Pavonis before freezing;

Armies will march down Marineris, kicking

Up clouds of dust like long extinct buffalo herds

Before smashing together with shouts and screams,

Swords flashing and gleaming in the golden sunlight,

Guns and missiles cast aside, exchanged for

Old fashioned cruel blades,

A far more elegant and efficient way

Of opening-up a spacesuit or slicing through

An air hose than a bullet or grenade.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Visiting Opportunity

 

Year 3 crossed Meridiani in single file,

Striding across the dusty land,

Holding hands and playing “I Spy”

To pass the time as they climbed Endeavour’s rim.

“…something beginning with…R” Mari said.

“RED!” the others shouted, but Mari

Shook her head. “Rocks?” suggested Stella,

Pointing at the stones arrayed around them

But Mari replied “No” –

Then Amy saw it.

“Rover!” she cried, and letting go

Of her partner’s glove ran over

To stand beside Opportunity,

Squeaky-clean inside her crystal bowl,

Now more than a hundred years old

But looking just as noble and handsome

As she had on Landing Day.

The others followed, flowing around

The famous robot, the one they had learned about

Back in school; the one they knew

Had survived for 20 years on Mars

Before rolling to a final stop atop

Endeavour’s edge, staring out across

The great crater floor, unable to drive any more,

Then finally fell asleep.

That’s one giant leap…” beamed Mandy,

Walking in slow motion around MER-B.

“Wrong planet, silly!” laughed Leo.

“I know,” Mandy sighed, rolling her eyes,

“I was just being Armstrong – “

“Louis Armstrong went to the Moon, not Mars,”

Tars said sniffily, “why don’t you pretend to be

Major Thomas, she was a girl…”

Mandy frowned, but kept bouncing

Around the rover, kicking over stones

As the rest of her class listened intently

To the teacher’s voice in their earpieces,

Telling them all the tale of “Oppy’s Trek”

From Eagle to Endeavour’s windswept walls.

“Time to go…” the teacher said,

Ignoring the moans and “Oh No!”s

And as the shadows crept across the crater floor

And the icy Sun sank lower

In the purple sky they all said goodbye

To Opportunity, and laughing beneath the starry sky,

Headed home.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Halley’s Comet Returns

 

When Halley’s Comet returns in 2062

I wonder how many people will view it

From Mars? There should at least

Be a small base there by then – a McMurdo-esque

Cluster of tunnels and habs, maybe a garage or two

For long distance rover crews to saddle up in

And ride out from, heading out

With a “Wagons roll!” shout, bound

For Marineris’ edge or the winding canyons

Of Noctis.

 

Perhaps there’ll be more – a small town,

Its foundations laid down by martian Mayflower pilgrims,

The Firefly-quoting nerds, bearded and top-knotted

Hipsters and starry-eyed dreamers Mars has always

Called out to; restless souls who sold everything they owned

To become SpaceX emigrants and rode a BFR to Mars

Years ahead of astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts.

 

More likely there’ll be just a handful of people there,

Or maybe there’ll be no-one at all,

All the grand plans for settlements and cities

Still just Powerpoints and CGI gathering dust

On a hard drive somewhere.

More likely talking heads will still be saying “The first footprints on Mars

Are at least 30 years away,” just as they were

When the last Apollo crew flew back from the Moon;

Just as they were when Challenger blew up

In that achingly-blue Florida sky; just as they were

When Opportunity climbed high above Endeavour’s floor;

Just as they were when the first Falcon Heavy’s engines roared;

Just as they will be when the ISS falls back to Earth,

Trailing smoke and flame; just as they will be on the day

The last Moonwalker passes away, and

Halley will shine in Ares’ star-frothed sky

Unseen by any human eyes.

Its search-light tail airbrushed across the heavens

Won’t delight anyone missing Earth.

No-one will point and cry “There it is!”

No-one will wave it goodbye;

No-one will sigh “So beautiful…”

As it fades and silently flies away.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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First Birth

 

For four billion years there were few sounds to hear

On Mars. The low moan of winds moving

Through the valleys; the rasping hiss of dust devils

Kissing as they waltzed across the plains;

The click-clack of rocks falling down canyon walls,

Bouncing a dozen times before landing on the floor below.

Then a procession of noises,

All unnatural and strange.

Loud crashes as metal machines fell from the sky

To smash into the ground; the WHUMP of parachutes

Opening high above; the whir of wheels,

The grinding of gears as robot rovers, steered

From many millions of miles away rolled

Across the landscape, exploring.

One day there’ll be the crunch of a boot

Scrunching into the dust. Then another, and another,

Whoops and cheers after four billion years of peace.

Then the hammering will begin: metal plates

Being shaped into life-supporting Habs, then homes

For families to live in – and grow.

And then, one sol, no-one can predict when,

A new sound will echo around Mars.

At the end of a long, twin-moon night

Of pacing and waiting on two worlds – a baby’s cry.

The birth of a new age.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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First Death

 

The first person to die on Mars is alive today.

 

As you read these words,

The first person to be buried in the cold,

Hard martian ground, covered with clinking

Red rocks, destined to go down in history

As the first human being to lose their life

On another world is out there, somewhere,

Fast asleep in their bed, or trying on a wedding gown,

Or out on the town with frinds;

They could be sitting quietly in a noisy class at school,

Or singing in the shower as they wash their hair,

Blissfully unaware what fate

Has in store for them.

 

They’ll train for years, then, fully qualified,

Slide into their seat, grinning from ear to ear.

Six months later they’ll jump down onto the dusty ground

Laughing with delight, ready to start a whole new life

On the New World.

 

Then… something will happen.

A suit seal will fail, or they’ll trip and fall,

Cracking their helmet visor like eggshell,

Leaving them flailing, gasping for air

Like a beached whale.

Or maybe fines, inhaled on the sol they arrived,

Will find a cosy, quiet corner of their lungs

To lurk in and set about their ghastly work,

Turning pink tissue into stinking tumour,

A ticking timebomb set to detonate

On some future, “Where were you when..?” date.

 

Two worlds, the Old and the New,

Will watch their funeral,

United in grief as weeping astronauts heap

Rocks and stones onto the grave,

Building a shrine for their them,

A curiosity for their bored kids

And a tourist attraction for the waves of colonists

Who will take their place.

 

(c) Stuart Atkinson

 

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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