Ansel Adams on Mars

27 03 2010

















He would love this place, embrace its rocks

And stones with all his artist’s heart.

With a new sunlit peak for each day of the week;

A different crumbling canyon for every

Martian month; enough nation-dwarfing volcanoes

To see him through a lifetime of plates and film,

This planet-sized Yosemite would be his playground.


If he was here today what would he make

Of MRO’S portraits of this cold, ochre world?

Would he sneer “Too colourful!”? Perhaps;

There are no cloud-eviscerating redwoods here;

No verdant squares of fir or pine embroidered lovingly

On this landscape’s quilt, only brutal, beautiful

Geology; just naked rock, raw stone,

Carved into ledges and layers, pinnacles and peaks

By Time’s patient hands, all standing tall and

Statue still for the past 4 billion years; already old

Before the first dinosaur was even born…


Imagine Adams on the summit of Husband Hill,

A gold rush grandpa, with a wise prospector’s eyes

And a wire wool beard shaded by a battered

Ridgetop hat, waiting for the light,

Delighting in the dervish dust devils

Whirling far below his feet; waiting, waiting

For that fleeting moment when Nature tosses back

Her hair, stares into the lens and purrs “Now…!”


Not hard to imagine him on Marineris’ edge,

Setting up his faithful tripod in the sol’s fading

Light, its legs clack-a-clacking as Phobos sprints

Overhead, a lantern hurled across the sky by

Some angry god. So easy to close one’s eyes

And see him standing on Ganges’ floor at dawn,

Watching ice cold sunlight creeping slowly

Up the mighty canyon’s walls, flowing

Towards him from the east in a tsunami

Of shine with a golden syrup glow…


Perhaps he walks Mars now, his restless spirit

Flitting here and there? Those avalanches,

Caught by HiRISE, sloughing off the high polar cliffs…

Were they triggered by Adams wandering

Too close to the chasm edge,

Almost losing his footing, his track-worn boots

Sending tonnes of ice and dirt and snow

Plummeting to the ground below?

Perhaps the faerie-breath wafts of air

That drift across the dusty plains

Are made by his ghost’s footsteps as it treks

In search of viewpoints new,

To’ing and fro’ing across Barsoom,

Pursuing the perfect light, that Just Right

Moment when tone and shade finally agree

And the picture screams out “Take me!”


© Stuart Atkinson 2010

Museum Peace

21 03 2010


One day she’ll stand in a museum. Silent. Still.

A spot-lit, space age statue in a heroic pose:

Wheels stopped, arm outstretched like ET’s;

Blunted RAT finger poking at the model meteorite

Positioned at her feet, labelled “The original Mackinac

Can be found in the gallery down the hall”.

One day she’ll be a curiosity, something you simply

Must see on your visit to the Great Museum of Mars.

Willow-limbed, pale skinned martian kids

On school trips will crowd round her, laughing

And shouting, leaning too far over the barrier

That protects her from the world – their

Sticky fingers pawing the air, perilously close

To her polished back, daring each other: “Do it!” –

While camera- and guidebook-clutching Terran tourists,

“Doing Mars”, sigh frustrated sighs, fighting

For a glimpse of The Old Girl through the heaving sea

Of bony martian shoulders, eventually deciding to give

Up and try again later when the red rats have all gone.

“Come on, Viking 2’s just over there, by the gift shop…”

One day historians from all across Sol’s system

Will come to worship at her wheels. With

The Great Museum sealed off from the little people

They’ll circle her like vultures, eyes picking

The flesh from her bones, her roaming days

The stuff of legend in their age of space elevators,

Lunar cities and galleons with solar sails:

How she went down into Victoria… how she braved

The Days of Endless Dust… epic tales

To rival the trials of Heracles in their 22nd century.

“But… she is so small,” they’ll whisper, as if afraid

to hurt her feelings, “she looks more like a toy…”

But today… today she is a giant, and she drives.

Today the wide-open sky above her back

Is rose-washed tangerine; today the only spotlight

Is the Sun. Today she is a rover, rolling, rolling,

Crunch-a-scrunching over Meridiani’s slabs of sedimentary

Crazy paving, billion year old rocks popping

Beneath her wheels. Today she is exploring,

The ghosts of da Gama and Drake, Lewis and Clark.

Shackleton and Magallen walk softly beside her.

Today she is alive!

© Stuart Atkinson 2010

Minus 41 Degrees

20 03 2010


I am cold. So cold.

Once I felt young; now – as old

As the chipped, frost-nipped rocks surrounding

Me. Hard to believe I once climbed the Mountains

Of Mars, gazed down on Gusev’s Big Country Plain

To watch dust devils whirling again and again

‘cross the landscape beneath my strong wheels…

Now I feel… oh, so weary; the weight of the rusty crust

Lying on my back stoops me like an old man

And I cannot feel a thing, can merely flick

My dry, itching electronic eyes this way and that,

Wondering if each picture I take will be my last…

Current flows through me grudgingly now.

I am hungry for power, starved of it,

As thirsty for it as a vampire gone weeks without

A kill. The thrill of basking in prickly summer

Sunshine is just a memory; the low winter sun

Is sorbet-cold, hanging in the sky like a skull,

A single vulture circling Homeplate

In oh-so-slow motion.

But I am still alive! Mars, Great God of War,

Declared war on me the very moment I arrived,

And every struggle-filled sol since has tried its best

To snuff out the guttering candle flame of my life –

But failed. And tho winter’s ice-encrusted fingers dig deep

Into me now, searching for my heart, desperate to pluck it free

And cast it to the whispering wind I will not give in!

Mars – do your worst; Spirit, of Earth, will not yield!

© Stuart Atkinson 2010

 Click on the image below for a full size illustrated version of this poem 🙂

Rover In Wonderland

20 03 2010


Welcome to Concepcion.

This is where I finally found My Mars;

The place where I would, if I could,

 – with a snicking click of my fingers –

Transport myself to; the place where I would find

John Boone’s Barsoom, with its butterscotch sky

And twin hurtling moons.

Here is where I’d plant my boots in the dust.

Breaking through the ancient duricrust

I’d look down at my footprints, reliving

That childhood thrill of pressing bare and sunburned toes

Into wet beach sand beside the sea.

But no iridescent shells here; no scuttling crabs

Or white-capped waves pushing and pulling,

Hissing and skrishing off to my side.

Surrounded by all these slabs of shattered

Crazy paving I’d feel more like a soot-stained wartime

Orphan, standing in the rubble of what used

To be my home. Stones like broken bricks and pieces

Of pot would lie all around me; dark rays of cinnamon-

Coloured chips and shards spraying away

On all sides, their sharp edges shining bright

In the deep desert sunlight…

Here: some stones that look like leering gargoyles

Fallen from high cathedral ledges

To shatter on Meridiani’s sun-baked floor.

Closer – the “Chocolate Hills”, two loaves

Of stale old bread, covered with a flaking

Leprous crust of who-knows-what.

Over there: other rocks, more rounded, smooth and dark;

Henry Moore sculptures stolen from their Terran parks

And pathways, rescued from the marker pens

And knives of vandals to spend

The rest of their days standing sentinel-silent on Mars.

To some, this youthful wound, barely an aeon old,

May look like the aftermath of a mad bull’s

Charge through Meridiani’s finest china shop, but

This is the Wonderland Alice would have found

Down the rabbit hole if she had been a snow-white

Spacesuit-clad geologist, and not a blue-dress-

And-apron wearing schoolgirl. No dusty bottles

Labelled “Drink me!” here, but a million rust-

Hued rocks whispering on the wind “Pick me up!”

And “Lift me”…

© Stuart Atkinson 2010

Wheels Stop

20 03 2010


I cannot now recall the feel of rock beneath my wheels;

Becalmed for so long in this sea of syrup-sand I have forgotten.

How I have missed the simple joy of movement!

How I have yearned to edge oh-so-slowly forwards,

Crunch-scrunching over cinnamon-coated stones,

Cameras panning and scanning as I rolled,

Watching the landscape around me change and the old

Horizon drift past and slowly, slowly, fall behind…

I shudder at the memory of the sol I stalled.

Von Braun was up ahead – beckoning me, its quirky cap

Tilted jauntily. Suddenly I was falling, then trapped.

Helpless, I felt clawed hands scrabbling up through

The deep dirt beneath me, the dust-caked Ghosts

Of Spacecraft Past grabbing at my wheels to hold

Me in a vice-like grip; the same ghastly ghouls

That snuffed out the mayfly lives of the poor

Polar Lander and doomed heroic Beagle 2…

I tried to flee, to speed away, but it was no use…

So there I stood, caught like a fly in amber, trapped

In dust as thick and foul as resin; a space age baby

Mammoth blundered into a Barsoomian tar pit.

For sol after sol I watched stars wheel o’erhead…

Saw Mars’ shrunken Sun rise and set…

Sighed at the sight of Terra twinkling briefly into view

Before it too fled. And there was nothing I could do –

Until I felt a hope-braided rope being tossed to me from Earth,

Felt a million people hauling on it, fighting to pull me free:

Heaving and heaving, they never stopped believing

My epic adventure was not destined to end here,

In this cruelly-camouflaged quicksand pit.

“No rover left behind!” they cried across the gulf of space,

and slowly, and surely, they drew up plans to save me.

But all those plans have failed, and it is clear that here

Is where my troubled trek will finally end.

My tracks will go no further than this place, and

The horizon I see now is the same one I will see

In the final moments of my life on Mars.

Von Braun will be forever out of reach; Goddard

Will gleefully goad me with its cruel proximity as I stand

Here, trapped in this silica-saturated sap.

But one day I will move again: after brushes

Clutched in far, gloved hands have swept decades of dust

From my back I will be lifted free, released

To briefly stand proud on Homeplate’s plateau again

Before being placed in The Museum Of Mars

For everyone to see…

Until then, my faraway friends, no sadness!

Celebrate my lucky charm life so far, and look forward

With me to many more sols of science. Trust me:

Together we’ll watch dust devils whirl and twirl,

phantoms swirling up into the cinnamon sky;

we’ll watch meteors fall behind faraway hills,

follow Earth as she waltzes through the stars.

My work here is far from done!

But I must sleep now; my fight for freedom has left me weary

And sharp-thorned fingers of cold are clawing

At me from the dusty ground around my lifeless wheels.

So sit here with me, on Home Plate’s edge,

And warm me with your warmth. Share my memories

Of mountains climbed and sunsets of burning blue.

My roving days are over, yes

 – but I have yet more work to do.

© Stuart Atkinson 2010