Wheels Stop


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

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