Titan

 

The first time I saw you

I was twelve. Standing alone

In the crisp Christmas snow, eyes watering

With the cold I peered into my new

Telescope’s eyepiece and there you were:

A tiny – golden? – glint, a hint,

A spark of light beside

The badly-focussed globe of Saturn.

 

Looking at you even then I knew

That “moon” was far too shy a word.

Centuries of spying on you

Had revealed to Man the Truth,

That you were a World, a Planet

In all but name. Plaque-carrying Pioneers

And Voyagers had already sailed past you,

Cameras clicking in the cold

Of space, but your face remained

Hidden beneath that veil of ochre,

Choking cloud; our first emissaries found

No Mariner mountains poking through…

 

Yet children staring into their first eyepieces

Now perceive a world of wonders

Thanks to Cassini’s startled eyes.

Wide open plains of wind-driven dunes, ice

Crystals piled metres high; dinosaur spine

Mountains scratching the sky beside cry-o

Volcanoes,calderas creaking

And cracking under the weight

Of who-knows-what groaning beneath their peaks.

 

If I had a Magic Spy eyepiece,

A 0.00001mm wide sliver of glass

I’d zoom in on you – what a view:

A smoky-orange ball, dull, bruised

Hallowe’en lantern hidden beneath

A layer of vapourous haze; my gaze

Drawn to the vaguely-painted

Collar of cloud wrapped around

Your northern pole… a whole world

Rolling ‘round ringed Saturn

Like a flash-frozen skull cloaked in smoke.

 

 

 

Yet, tonight, watching you

Glide silently through my every-night

Eyepiece’s thin field of view I can sense

Those rivers and streams of ethane swaying

‘Round your icy hills and plains;

Serpentine chemical stain ribbons of

Cinnamon-saturated syrup pouring

Into those great plates of dark brooding red

Near your poles: lakes big as seas, with

Frigid breezes blowing weary waves

Across them while fat and foul raindrops

Slop down sullenly from a sky as dark

As Doom itself, falling onto the

Fat blood-bloated ticks feasting

On your flesh, each lake a fresh

Thick tumour on an ichor-slicked kidney…

 

In my mind’s eye I fly through

My telescope’s quivering tube and,

Shivering with the thrill, fall slowly

To the shingle-ringed shore of Ontario Lacus.

Standing there, ghostly Titanian wind

Ruffling my hair I see

The lake heaving and lifting –

A glutinous mass shifting beneath

Its curdled skin of vomit-thick scum.

No sun on my face, just the taste

Of the methane-stained rain

On my frost-bitten lips and the drip,

Drip dripof that dark, dank rain…

 

Beneath my feet: brittle shingle;

Tingles running through me as

My boots crunch down to the sounds

Of ice scrunching; hearing low moans

In the thick-as-treacle air I stare

Up at the sky – but no sight

Of Saturn, lost forever behind the cloudy blight…

 

One Far Future day, when Mars has been tamed,

Children from Earth will scale

Your hoar-frosted hills; stand

On their peaks and stare down,

Seeking the haze- and distance-dimmed lights

Of their spacecraft on the plain

Far below and know they are truly

The Farthest Men from Home.

Watching flakes of filthy tholin snow

Fluttering to the foamy ground, those

New Lewis and Clarks, alone

In an ice sculpture landscape carved

By the Michelangelo of Time will

Stand in exhausted silence, gulping down air,

Sharing their wide-eyed, alien view

Of the new New World.

 

Titan.

 

And, shaking gauntleted, heated hands,

Vow to make it their own.

 

 

© Stuart Atkinson 2007

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