Standing in the Minster’s deep dark shadow,
marrow-chilled by the late May wind
I gazed up at the gargoyles grinning
down from far above my head and said
“Someday Mars will have a monument like this”.
“Hmm? You think”? she sighed, click-a-clicking
by my side, camera grabbing images of Time-flayed,
now-green statues as we talked, walking in
and out of the shadow’s spiky silhouette
while crumpled Costa cups and burger wrappers blew around our feet.
“Oh yeah,” I nodded, staring up, looking past
the imps’ and elves’ chipped stone faces; past
the stained-glass windows shining in the Sun;
past the buttresses and towers to where the air
was clear and blue as an iceberg’s frozen heart –
– and I knew it was true. In another age, tho maybe
not for a thousand years or more a mighty crowd will roar
at the sight of monstrous doors swinging open
and, surging forward, will be dwarfed by its great
towers and walls of salmon-tinted stone.
Probably not a cathedral tho; by then religion
will be a strictly terrestrial thing: superstitions, myths
and fairy tales for scaring Terran tots who will not
go to bed. Instead – a great museum, the place
where all Man’s Mars explorers are brought and laid to rest.
In one small room – bruised and battered Beagle, or however
many pieces of her shattered beetle shell they’ve found
by Opening Day. In another gallery: case after case
of ‘famous stones’, those seen through Viking’s
and Pathfinder’s lenses before they too passed away.
And in one endless Hall of Heroes – the precious probes
themselves, dead and rusted, dug out of the drifted dust
and brushed ‘til spotlessly clean; seen now in a floodlight’s
glare, stared at by a million passing martians every year,
immortalised on the store’s shelves as postcards, rulers and pens…
Another hall, another haul of electronic emissaries,
dragged free from Barsoom’s sucking sands to stand
proud in the light again: Phoenix, with her claw-like
hand, dwarfing Soviet Mars and broken backshells
from a dozen different lands, all rescued from oblivion.
Walking through its red rock corridors, heels click and
clocking on fire-hued flagstones flensed from the flank
of mighty Olympus’ slopes, any stick-limbed martian
old and bold enough to lift their eyes will see a sight
to make a Terran of the 21st century weep…
Hanging from invisible threads of teased-out, cobweb diamond
Old Odyssey and older Vikings will in formation fly;
side by side: MRO and MGS, Mars Express and all the rest,
space age pterodactyls with fragile silicon wings and
solar-wind stained eyes, resting after all their years of service.
Walking in their shadows, wide eyes sweeping to and fro,
how many pale-skinned martians will know their epic history?
How their every move was met on earthly message boards
and forums with breathless glee or fear? Will they hear
the sighs and cries of those of us whose lives
revolved around their speckled pixel portraits even as
the probes themselves revolved around Mars far below?
Will they know how we sat long into the night, waiting for a sight
of the latest canyon, crater or hill? Will those images still
amaze, or will their glory have faded like the flags on the Vikings’ sides?
And in one special hall, with mural-covered walls,
spotlights will play upon the graceful forms of Mankind’s
first true martians: two rovers, identical in shape and size,
surprisingly fragile-looking in the gallery’s light
will finally stand side by side, sisters reunited after
many years apart. Their hearts, embedded in their metal
chests, will beat again, as strong and proud as when they prowled
the cinnamon-stained plains of Gusev and Meridiani.
See? a martian mother will tell her infant son, Opportunity and Spirit,
and reaching out with shaking hand she’ll touch the sand-
scratched panels on their backs and thank them for their lives.
We would not be here if they had failed, she’ll tell
the sleeping babe, they turned Mars from a rock into a world.
And walking away, her noble martian head held high
She’ll turn one final time and say through crystal tears…
© Stuart Atkinson 2007