Dwarfed beneath a butterscotch sky
Impossibly wide and high,
Opportunity roves on.
Rolling relentlessly towards Endeavour,
Her wheels turn in tectonic slow motion;
Gravel crunches silently beneath their treads,
Red rocks and dust trapped inside them
Tumbles over and over, over and over,
Would-be martian cement in a billion dollar mixer.
She wears a cloak of dust now
As she ploughs on towards Cape York.
Walking beside her, if only in my mind, I wear
A spacesuit of the imagination:
Rust-stained like a painter’s paper overalls, its
Legs tainted to the knees with sepia and
Orange fines, as if I had been striding
Through the red weed fields
Of Wells’ Earth-envying Mars…
Through the goldfish bowl helmet on my head
Meridiani is distorted, warped.
I walk across a fairground mirror Mars,
My heated boots break through the frostbitten
Duricrust with every half-bounced step –
I stop, kicking up a cinnamon cloud and look around,
Letting Oppy roll on alone awhile
This deep frozen desert is beyond dead,
Death Valley raked and scraped clean of every trace of life,
Only bone dry dust and stones left behind
To bake in the icy sun.
Fines are everywhere – piled up against
Each and every rock, wind sock dunes
Decorate every crater. I watch a gentle wave of dust
Waft slowly across the plain, an ankle-high dry tsunami
Racing across the landscape at a hundred
Inches an hour…
…and on the far horizon, Endeavour’s orange hills.
A year ago they were barely there,
Modest mounds not even a finger’s width
High. Now they seem to reach up and touch the bottom
Of this towering sky. We pause, Opportunity and I,
Terran tourists taking in an epic view.
The shrunken sun is overhead now, painting the eastern mountains
Bierstadt purples, tans and golds, and a spotlight seems to shine
On the Cyclops eye crater which stares out
Across Endeavour from its unreachable eastern side.
This morning we watched the sun rise behind that
Mimas-mocking peak, a silver sequin shining meekly
Through horizon-hugging haze, climbing slowly
Into a cigar smoke blue sky, another glacial dawn breaking
O’er Meridiani’s sea of silent stones
As sunlight slowly flowed over the mountains
In a tide of liquid gold…
Here on Mars, as they have always done on Earth,
Those slopes and peaks call out to us, beckon us,
Draw us forwards. They monopolise our eyes,
Hypnotise us. We cannot look away.
Just as sailors are drawn to mermaids, singing
Siren songs from surf-slick rocks, just as
Powder-winged moths are drawn to guttering
Flames, so Endeavour’s faraway hills pull at us,
Tugging as if they are magnets and the very chains
Of our DNA were cast from iron.
© Stuart Atkinson 2011