Over The Top…


“She’s on borrowed time,” I heard them say,

turning from their screens; “I mean,

every day’s a bonus now, she should show us

all she can before her time runs out.


“Besides, there’s nowhere else to go…”


So. Here I go. Again.

Descending some slippery, shingle slope

from the sun-bright World Above

to the mysterious World Below.

The siren call of Victoria’s Underworld –

they have decided, back on Earth –

can be ignored no longer; her songs

too sweet to sweep aside, for watery secrets hide

down there, they think,

in those gritty gateau layers

of shattered umber stone, and so

once more my weary head tilts down

and my dust-clagged wheels spin round

to carry me to, then o’er,

another edge, where lies, I hope,

a ledge beyond the brink…


I knew this sol would come.

Having dipped my toes into Endurance

and survived to tell the tale –

of leaning Burning cliffs and brain-shaped

Wopmay stones – before turning tale

and trekking south to this great hole,

I knew no yawning, wheels-in-slippers

retirement waited for me on Meridiani;

no chance of basking in the Sun and counting

feathery clouds wafting across the sky;

My destiny was always to Go In

once more.


Scanning the horizon encircling me

everything I see upon it is so far away

it may as well be on Earth’s Moon;

I would need another life to reach it,

and already I cheat Death every time

I watch a dawn. No, my Time

is coming to an end so I

should spend it wisely, trying

to make my Makers proud. 


I must put my trust in them, those men

and women on the glinting Evening Star

whose evolved monkey minds designed

and loving hands built me.

Surely they would not betray me after all

I’ve done for and shown them?

living for years not weeks, seeking

clues to Barsoom’s watery past I’ve lasted

far beyond their wildest dreams; seen

a thousand sunsets and sunrises;

After floundering on an endless sea

of fine-ground amber dust I escaped

to rove another Day…

No, they won’t betray me, surely,

won’t sacrifice me for ‘science’ –


Could I defy them if they tried?


Perhaps I should tell them my secret,

just to be sure. Share with them the terror

that travelled with me here all those years

ago, that I had pushed to the back

of my mind after living this life of light

on Mars, marching over the open plains,

dipping into craters again and again

but always, always in the sun.

It was easy to forget when even

in the depth of night I had the lantern lights

of the moons and stars wheeling overhead

to keep at bay the memories of waking early –

still a month away from Mars, a month before

my time, in total, terrifying darkness.

No anomaly showed on their status boards

of course; no red lights flashed to tell them I had

tumbled out of sleep and was now wide

Awake and weeping, hearing noises in the dark –

banging on the hull, scratching inside and out –

and imagining foul, invisible Things with tattered wings

scuttling over and around me in the gloom,

rats scurrying over a doomed prisoner in a dungeon

a hundred million miles from Home…


But finally, Mars! My beloved, Wide Open Spaces

World of dizzying high sky and bone dry plains

stretching off to infinity – or so it seemed

as I heaved myself out of the Eagle’s lair

and headed for Endurance…


… so please, my Makers, do not

betray me now; I will go down into

this valley as you wish, hoping it is

as free of peril as another’s name suggests,

and from the floor of this martian pit

I’ll beam back the images of its crumbling cliffs

and grinning gargoyle blocks of dusty, ochre stone

you have been hoping for.

But if the hourglass of my life runs dry

while I am in the Underworld, do all

you can to let me end my sols in light

and not in gloom; I beg you, if I am doomed

to die down there, let me die on the sunny dunes

undulating o’er its heart, not falling apart

beneath one of the ledges jutting

from its scalloped edge, hidden

from the sun,sealed under a coffin lid

of cold Victorian stone.


















© Stuart Atkinson 2007

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