The Trench


We cannot yet go there in person – even gloved

our barely-evolved monkey paws would freeze

in Mars’ vacuum chamber air – so we built an heir,

a robot child to go and play and dig and scrape

at the cold dirt in our place; sent it racing

to an alien beach then set it scratching

at the ground to see what treasures hid beneath

its Sun-baked, rusted duricrust. Slowly, weakly,

Phoenix’s metal beak raked meakly

across Mars’ skin, slicing into it, leaving behind

a gaping wound, wide and smooth of side,

a crumbling window into Barsoom’s past life,

a mini-Marineris, the next best thing

to Being There.


When that first trench was dug I peered into my screen

and half-thought I would see the bloody stumps of worms

wriggling in its sides, cut in half by the slicing blade

of the robot’s bucket scoop swooping down from the pale pink

sky like an angry gardener’s spade. But nothing moved

down there; no beetles scuttled between those stones,

no lonely, black-shelled centipede weaved in an out

of the camera’s field of view, and I  knew

no skeletal hands of gnarled and twisted roots would

reach out from the trench’s tiny grave… just slanting shafts

of sunlight casting Death dark shadows behind each carved up clod

of dirt, each picture telling the watching world

“You’ll find no fossils here.”…


Phoenix quietly went about her work… watching the shrunken

Sun rolling on its sine wave roller-coaster track

across the sky…sighing at TEGA’s tantrums,

trickling tasty bits of dirt and grit into its hungry mouth.

And as she works each whispered whirr of motors, each gentle purr

of gears disturbs the trench’s rampart walls and sends so-small

Yosemite Falls of cinnamon dust tumbling to its floor.

And now, look there – frost! A hint of ice glinting in the lee

of the stones and folds of dirt standing on its furrowed

floor, each smear and stain and fragile flake of brittle blue

proof this world is not the bone dry desert History claims,

and Life may one day grace this land again…


© Stuart Atkinson 2008

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