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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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Peggy

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She never raised a paw in anger to me; nothing but love

Was ever painted on her tiny tapering face.

She didn’t so much walk as stalk across the floor,

Her always-out claws, shattered hips and arched spine

Made moving in straight lines from As to Bs impossible.

And often she would just sit there at my feet,

Staring, her hazel and gold dragon eyes locked on mine

Like feline phasers and I’d wonder what she was thinking,

What memories were rising to the surface as she looked into me.

Sometimes in her sleep, with eyelids twitching and tiger-striped

Legs kicking a nightmare would finally catch her

And she’d wake with a start, wobble over to me, shaking,

Clamber onto my chest and rest her face against mine,

Needing to be near me until the shadows of her past

Faded away for another night.  I swear,

If I could go back in time, steal a TARDIS,

I’d find whoever made my beautiful, huge-hearted

Girl into the bag of broken glass that rested its head on my lap

While I made mosaics of Mars, stitched together images of Pluto

And Rosetta’s tumbling, crumbling comet

And break their teeth, make them limp,

Hack off whichever cruel hand they used to cut off

Her tail and laugh as they wailed.

 

Maybe somewhere in the Multiverse she lived a normal life,

Without that pain. I like to think so.

But I know she loved her time with us;

Loved being plucked off the ground and held

Against my chest, nestling under my chin; loved Riverdancing

On the pillow behind me at 4am, wowing “Now… Now…”

Again and again and again – a rude awakening two hours

Before I needed to be up; loved lapping water

From her shell-shaped cup, the only one she’d use;

Loved making me surrender every prawn or piece

Of chicken from every sandwich I ever tried to eat,

Leaving only bare, buttered bread behind for me;

Loved draping herself over my shoulder like a sash,

Eyes flashing, purring like a chainsaw; loved pushing away

My laptop screen when I really needed to write…

 

One memory shines lantern-bright:

Night falling at Kielder… a soft breeze whispering through

The northern wall of trees and her nested in my arms,

Only half awake, eyelids heavy, barely open

As we stood outside.

No-one else around; the only sound the wind chime tinkling

Of the twinkling stars coming out above us and her soft breathing.

Already halfway to a dream, there was no fear on her face,

She was safe, at peace with me, bathed

In the light of a million distant suns as the turning of the Milky Way

Gently rocked her to sleep…

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2017

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Waking Opportunity

 

Maybe, if we all look to the sky

On the next cold, clear night,

Seek out Mars shining there like

A red-hot coal and wish really hard

Opportunity will wake.

Children do it all the time

And it seems to work for them.

On Christmas Eve they lie in bed,

Eyes squeezed tight, fighting off sleep,

Hoping to hear the stairs creaking

As Santa creeps down to leave

Gifts beneath their tree – and next morning

There they are.

When a tooth falls out they hide the white nugget

Beneath their pillow, wishing and hoping

For a calcium-deficient fairy to swap it

For a coin – and one magically appears.

Why can’t it work for us?

For two long months now we’ve waited

For her to phone home, checking our laptops

And phones to see if someone at JPL

Has Tweeted “She’s alive!”

But all we hear is silence.

Although her dust-curdled sky

Is clearing now, the softly-falling fines

Leaving Endeavour looking even rustier than before

Our brave girls sleeps on, deep in

A power saving mode computer coma,

Unaware of the sols passing,

Every marmalade-hued sunrise and sunset

Going unseen.

So maybe, if we all look to the sky

On the next cold, clear night,

Seek out Mars, and wish really hard

She’ll hear us, open up her gritty eyes

And with a yawn come back to life.

 

Let’s try.

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2018

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Peggy

Peggy

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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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