Settlers of old told

the stories of their lives on quilts

of rag and cloth. Hunched in cold cabins,

weathered faces lit by shafts

of sepia sunlight lancing down through

mossy roofs they sewed for hours,

recording births, deaths and dances

with needles flashing,

each flower-bordered square a

cross-stitch snapshot of their lives.


Quilts as living things: children

for the childless, great lace-cornered canvases

that grew and grew, stretching out

across Big Tables just as towns themselves

spread out across the plain,

relentless as an oil spill,

a tsunami of settlement that only

running out of continent could stall…


A century passes.

Time and Wright flies.

Apollo reaches out to touch the Moon,

Shuttle engines boom. They soar,

fall and soar again.

Metal butterflies flutter from

Earth to fly past or settle on

her sister worlds.

One – red as wine when seen

shining in the winter sky –

beckons to us louder every year

until –


Today’s frontier – that red light

gleaming in our clear night sky –

is immortalised on quilts as fine

as any sewn by Civil War

widows or snowed-in pioneers.

Some things have changed:

no more dusty rooms, candle-lit,

crammed full of folded fabric;

no more needles sharp or tables

worn and wide.

Today’s quilt-makers’ works

of art are brought to life on PC screens

that flicker green and blue in darkened rooms

and studies all across the world;

Photoshop their flashing needle;

their patches Pancam images, downloaded

overnight by Midnight Browsers

from JPL and NASA sites; their stitches

tiny pixels that make motes of dust

seem big as stones.


With surgeons’ steady hands

they suture ragged edged red Raw

rover images into beautiful mosaics;

Monet-misty landscapes

of undulating dunes soon appear

mysteriously out of what once was

mere grainy noise;  shadow-casting outcrops

whisper into view whenever new

Pan- Haz- and Navcam images

bless Exploratorium’s main page.


Horton, Dilo, Nirgal, Nix… six

dozen others too, all consumed

with the need to show and see

Red Mars in new and wondrous ways

– as we would see it if we stood upon

its cinnamon-dusted surface and,

breath catching in our throats,

watch Earth set behind far purple hills

and twin moons dash across the sky…


 A century passes.

Men and women bound across the Moon’s

ashen fields, reach out and feel

the Eagle’s fragile skin crinkle

beneath their touch .

Others scurry ant-like over spinning-top

tumbling asteroids: prospectors

staking claims to let them live

like kings back home…


Explorers first, then settlers stalk

the ochre plains of Mars, walk

to and then embrace the two dead rovers

many thought could never die.


And in museums from Chryse to Utopia

martians stare in wonder

at the images the Image Mages

mosaiced together back on Earth,

digital quilts stitched by lovesick souls

before they were even born…


© Stuart Atkinson 2006

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