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
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;
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