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 sand pouring 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…
© Stuart Atkinson 2006