Throughout history and myth my kind
have always loved and lived in fire.
Screeching creatures with feathers ablaze,
breathing and bathing in flickering flames,
born in infernos of orange and gold…
but I am the first Phoenix ever to feel cold,
the first to stand on ice instead of ash
and watch Earth dash across an alien sky,
all memory of warmth fading away
as legends always do.
Unlike the Twins that came before me,
galloping giddily round Gusev and veering
without fear around Victoria’s ragged edge
I will not rush wildly o’er this frozen land but,
like a statue hewn from Barsoom’s polar ice, stand
and watch the sols go by in serene and stately silence.
I will scale no ancient hills but thrill to the sight
of a molten gold Sun burning in a burnt umber sky,
watch starlight dancing off Mars’ hoarfrosted wastes,
smile at Earth blazing like a lantern, guiding me
through the darkest borealis night
towards another lavender dawn.
No. Once settled I shall not move from here.
I have no spiked and whirring wheels to steer
me round outcrops or over rippling dunes,
my view will never change: sol after sol
my cameras will take sepia-tinted portraits
of the same Sun-blasted rocks, same impact-shocked
stones and boulders bare.
Unlike mere horizon-chasing MERs, which cannot
concentrate on Mars’ terrain for longer than one day
I will stare out with my unblinking eyes
across the same high latitude landscape until I die,
savouring the slight shifting of the light,
the subtle, silky hues each hour of the sol
this planet chooses to reveal to me, payment
for being peaceful and not tearing up its land
with tracks into open wound trenches.
I have no wheels to peel back Mars’ flesh,
to flense it like a whale…
What will I find? What will I see?
Such things are mysteries to me as I stand
here, all alone, a Phoenix carved from Easter Island stone,
a firebird exiled to a frozen world, my
glittering silicon wings unfurled to
drink heat from a distant star
allowing me to dig with talon and claw
into the planet’s desiccated dirt in search
of ice to thaw and drink, quenching Man’s thirst
for knowledge of how Life may once have
thrived on this distant, dusty place.
So, curious children of Earth, turn your faces
to the sky and think of me, send me
images of fire and flame to warm
my frost-bitten feathers and face
as I begin another day…
Phoenix I may well be named but
as fleeting as a butterfly’s will be my life;
one sad sol, when my work here is done
the dimming Sun will grow too cold and low
to let me live, and with one final fractured
view of Mars through my fading eyes
I’ll fall into a sleep as deep and dark
as Ultreya’s shifting sands, never to see
the salmon sky or glitter stars again.
Condemned to endless years of exile
at the pole, layers of snow and ice will cover me,
smothering me, age after age until all trace of me
has gone, leaving me embedded in the white, as fine
and fragile as the crystals in a geode’s core
and just as perfectly concealed…
And yet… perhaps millennia from now, if Mars’
distant children somehow turn this rusted, dusted world
into a globe of glowing, growing green I’ll see
the Sun again and, emerging from my icy tomb
like David from Michelangelo’s marble womb,
rejoice at the touch of warm human hands once more,
and this phoenix will feel Sol’s loving fire again…!
© Stuart Atkinson 2007