Endeavour Dawn


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

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