20 01 2011

Unseen by weary Opportunity as she stares

Down at pale plates of wind-etched, once-wet stone,

The ghost of Columbus glides past, striding

Towards Santa Maria, sword swinging at his side,

His shadow cast o’er the rock-strewn ground

By the low, cold Sun.

No damp deck rolls below him; no

Tide-tortured timbers squeak beneath

His heels; his sea spray stained boots

Crump and crunch through bone dry duricrust now,

With rust-hued boulders, named after his

Famous crew, scattered all around like statues…

Finally he stands at the crater’s crumbling edge,

Stares out across the ancient impact scar

And smiles. The far horizon is as flat as his

Beloved sea – a razor sharp line scored between

The epic butterscotch sky and wide open, Big Country

Plain of ancient Meridiani.

Through his Santa Maria’s creaking rigging

He saw a heaven high and impossibly blue;

But this landscape’s roof has no snow white

Cirrus clouds, no flocks of brightly-painted birds

Cawing and wheeling in the sun.

This dominating dome knows no azure hints or tints;

Nature’s brush rushed to paint all ochre here…

Yet over there, beneath the sepia eastern sky,

Dark mountains catch his explorer’s eye.

The Endeavour range is low, and long,

An island chain rising from an ocean of stone

And wind-whipped dust… and it calls to him,

Beckons him onwards as a strange horizon has always done –

He vanishes, blown away by an icy martian breeze,

Leaving Opportunity to scratch at the rocks

Beneath her wheels, seeking signs of ancient water

On the new New World…

© Stuart Atkinson 2011

You can find an illustrated version of this poem here:


9 01 2011


Seven years ago, a few sols apart, two shooting stars,

Bright as falling angels, pierced an alien cinnamon-hued night,

Dropping onto Barsoom robot Lewis and Clarks

Which have now spent more time ‘alive’ on Mars

Than on Earth and have shown us more of Ares

Than even Bradbury dared to dream:

The Columbia Hills, conquered, glowing gold

In the mid-day marmalade light;

Meteorites glinting in the distance

On the very edge of sight;

Rocks the shape of sharks’ teeth,

Fossilised brains and bears; layers

Of ancient stone piled storeys-high

Beneath a crater’s crumbling edge;

Dust as dark as powdered coal blown

Into folds and waves; a midnight sky ablaze

With stars after another ‘longest drive’ day –

And Earth, the distant Homeworld, reduced

To a sapphire sequin that fades, fades, fades…

Strange and humbling to think

The far future Mars will be a true New World,

A world just as wonderful as ours,

With its own poets and pilgrims, generals

And gentlemen; navies will clash on its terraformed

Seas while screaming armies swarm over Olympus’ heights;

Tortured songwriters will sit on obsidian roofs,

Kicking at martian moss and staring into a twin moon sky;

And lovers will stand on a canyon’s crumbling edge

At dawn, yawning, watching the ice blue Sun rise

Through the Marineris mists and ‘kiss’

Through their visors’ dust-etched glass…

As the aeons pass Mars will have

A million Emperors and kings; a hundred thousand

Bloody wars will be fought over great

And little things; nations will rise and heroes

Will fall, Terra’s Tale told all over again.

But as long as a single heart beats on Barsoom

No-one will ever forget the names

Spirit” and “Opportunity”.

Wild-haired Cydonian composers will pen

Soul-stirring symphonies inspired by them.

Families will follow their legendary routes

Across the lonely deserts of Mars;

Walk in their vanished-long-ago tracks;

Pose for pictures beside Wopmay; edge slowly

Down into Duck Bay to touch Cape Verde’s

Vandalised Stone, perhaps scratching into it

Graffiti of their own…

But for now they are ours,

They belong to us – the rover-hugging horde,

The fans whose hands dance over the keyboards

Of computers in bedrooms and dens, offices

And schools, around the world, waiting

Breathlessly for the next download of raws, all

Hopelessly in love with the rust- and ochre-painted

World that is the rovers’strawberry-sanded wonderland.

© Stuart Atkinson 2010

For a colour poster version of this poem, created by my great friend Glen Nagle, go here: