“Two Explorers”


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:


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