On Iapetus


The first Men on Iapetus will stand and stare

down on its endless, glaring

snow-white plains and soot-stained crater floors

and envy us for seeing them first.


One day men and women brave will scale

the rugged whale-spine ridge that runs around

Iapetus like a seam, like some mad geologist’s dream

carved into Toblerone V’s of ice as hard as steel,

and wish that they had been the first

to see its image on a screen – way back

on Close Encounter Day, before the first

footsteps on Mars and long before

airships from Earth soared over Titan’s seas –

and thought “This is a world; the word

moon is far too timid to describe

the wonders we can see…”


So many mysteries!

What is the Black? The carbon-crusted corpses

of shattered comets? Scattered blocks of

debris, asphalt-coloured mud that melted as they crushed

against the land, gushing and rushing over

every slope, pit and peak like tarry stellar slush?

And what is the White? Pure and simple ice?

Fragments of far Saturn’s shining rings?

Or a feather quilt made from the frozen wings

of angels that fell from the Iapetian sky

to perish on its plains? Cassini gave us clues but

only straining human eyes

and aching brains will solve those riddles.


And so, high on the Voyager Mountains’ peaks

they’ll sneek a look at Saturn before seeking out

the sapphire star of Earth, glinting diamond bright

in the deep Iapetian night, its watery light reflecting

off the star-tanned ice beneath their feet,

its image fleeting, steady only for a heartbeat

before being shattered into countless cuts

of cobalt-coloured crystal. “So beautiful,”

they’ll sigh and, crying,

fall to their knees as arctic waste white screes

and fat, gunpowder blackened bowls

roll endlessly below. By then they’ll know

why their globe is broken

into shards of black and white; why

half their world is dark, its mountain ranges

and ancient craters stained by some

strange celestial squid’s ink.

They’ll think us fools for being bemused

by each new image of their home’s spattered

lands, our frantic hand-wringing

over pits that appear to be pebble-dashed

with splats of ash-black oil

while nearby fields of milky snow

lie waiting for to be ruined by strolling pioneers,

the Armstrongs and Aldrins of future years

to cross, heated boots crumping

and crunching across their frozen foam,

gazing up at countless beads of icy stone

waltzing slow ‘round Saturn’s waist,

all the while the taste of Time

lying thick on their bone dry tongues…


© Stuart Atkinson 2007

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