Cook, standing with feet apart on Endeavour’s rolling deck,
Feels what as he sees Point Hicks protruding from the southern sea?
As his ship rides the roiling waves, great gouts of foam and spray
Exploding from beneath her bow, how does he feel as the salty air
Scrapes his face, stinging his wide-with-wonder eyes?
Does he know the world will never be the same after that day?
Does he sigh as he shields those eyes from the savage sun
“All maps are wrong now; all charts can be tossed
Over the side, for there is much more to Terra
Than we even dared to imagine…”?
Centuries pass… until, at last, a metal and glass machine,
The likes of which never appeared in even Cook’s most
Fevered dreams, cuts a swathe through waves of a different kind:
Waves of ancient martian dust, duricrist and silica statues
Carved by Meridiani’s Michelangelo winds into ripples
Of winding serpents tails and swirls;
Her long shadow’s cast across the desert by the shining sun,
Draping it like a cloak over an epic land of rocks and stones and sand;
Dwarfed beneath a huge, huge sky, a high
Cathedral ceiling painted shades of peach and pink…
No birds wheel o’er her Endeavour; occasionally a mere
Hint of cloud, a fluff of lint drifts, wraith-like,
Above the faraway hills, past a Sun any humans watching
Would call “shrunken”, but being the only one Oppy
Has ever seen seems a perfect size to her unblinking eyes…
We are all Cook now. Standing on this rover’s tilting deck
As she crests the silent cinnamon surf; we are Oppy’s crew,
Clinging to her camera mast, swinging from the insulated cables
Rigging running down her sides, peering from the Crow’s Nest
Of her dust-etched Pan- and Navcam eyes.
For, at least in spirit, countless curious Liliputians
Ride this rover now; crowds of invisible ensigns sail
This sandship galleon – her hull creaking under the weight
Of her virtual passengers and their expectations – as she crosses
This ocean of rust-hued waves, each one of us
Waiting, waiting for that first precious, priceless
Glimpse of Cape York, where our long-awaited landfall
Will be made; each of us desperate to be the first
To type “Land Ho!”, knowing our words
Will then echo around bedrooms, studies and snugs,
Classrooms and cubicles, spread out around the world.
© Stuart Atkinson 2010
An illustrated poster version of this poem is available here: