“The Guide”

21 02 2012







Somesol a so-tired tour guide

Will lead vacationing families

To this place one final time,

Their faces beaming behind gold-plated visors –

Some sun-starved and pale,

Betraying their martian birth;

Others Terra-tanned and dappled

With sweat, clearly not yet used

To the confines and cloying heat of a p-suit –

All clutching cameras as they climb

The Shoemaker spine of Cape York

To stand huffing and puffing by Greeley Haven.


Ever patient, the Guide will smile,

Describing for the millionth time how,

A hundred years before, brave Opportunity –

Left alone on Mars after Spirit’s death-by-quicksand

In Husband Hill’s dark shadow, half a world away –

Rested her weary wheels on these very stones,

Before rolling creakily away, continuing her epic

Quest for Clays beneath Ares’ butterscotch sky…


Fighting to be heard above the herds of screaming

Children; trying to stop their parents prodding

And poking at the ancient sites; shooing wooing teens

Away from Tisdale 2 as they try to etch their names

Into its aircraft carrier deck, she’ll count to ten,

Again and again and again, until it’s finally time

To lead her party off the hill back down into Endeavour Town,

Its modules shining white as a pile of broken bones

On the crater floor below…


As the footsore sightseers scatter in search of bars

Or the comfort of their beds, instead

The Guide will turn and head right back up to the Cape,

Striding past the gaping pit of Odyssey;

Skirting the sepia standing stones of Stoughton

Until she arrives back at Greeley’s rocky slope

And sits down with a heartfelt sigh, blissfully alone, at last,

Drinking in the landscape through a besotted lover’s eyes.


Behind her – the setting Sun, a ball of blue ice

Falling, leaf-slow, through the lavender alien sky;

In front – the Faraway Hills, hump-backed mountains

Marking Endeavour’s eastern side, their peaks painted

A dozen Picasso shades of orange, ginger and gold,

All afire with martian Alpenglow,

Their cratered slopes and bases already deep in shadow;

And beyond her booted feet, cast on the crater’s floor

By the fading Sun – her own silhouette surrounded by

A faerie-light halo: The Glory of Mars, right there for all to see.


Sitting there, with Earth shining o’er her shoulder,

A firefly fluttering blue and green above Victoria’s

Distant Capes she’ll know that there’s no other place,

On any world waltzing around any of the Milky Way’s

Cream-stirred-into-coffee Catherine wheel of stars,

She’d rather be, at the end of this, her final day.


© Stuart Atkinson 2012




Freeing Spirit

13 02 2012


There she is, see?

That fleck-of-dust-on-your-screen

Black speck just off to Homeplate’s side.

Magnifying with HiWISH mouse clicks reveals

Her insectoid shape; the shadows

Of her blue bottle wings cast on the ground beneath

As she bathes in the shrunken Sun’s glow;

Her body encrusted in cinnamon-hued dust,

Still trapped in the cold, sucking sands of Troy,

A terran fly rooted in Barsoomian amber,

Never to roll into the shade of crazily-capped Von Braun,

Never to rove again.


So hard to see her standing there and know

There’s nothing to be done! No hope

Of rescue, no opportunity to run

Down Husband Hill’s side, through El Dorado’s

Black, crushed beetle sands to stand beside her,

Brush in hand, and sweep those fines away.

It would take how many of us

To scoop the dirt out from beneath her wheels?

Surely two or three “rover fans”, scrabbling

With fat-fingered gloves could easily

Spring her from that trap? And I’m sure

That on his own @marsroverdriver could drag

Her free, heaving and heaving until

Her liberation was complete…


But such a daring rescue is, and forever will remain,

A dream. Wheels will never whirr this way again,

And I fear boots will not crump across Homeplate’s

Humped back until long after I am dead.

For Mankind is turning its back on Barsoom,

Relegating it from The Next Frontier

To merely another ruddy star fighting

To be seen in Terra’s light-polluted sky.


I could cry with shame to think it may be another century

Until another human hand reaches out and touches Spirit,

Shaking as their fluttering fingers brush away the dust

Revealing the rover beneath – a pilgrim

From the Evening Star coming face

To face with a fossilised heroine from our

Ancient, foolish age…


Or perhaps a thousand years will pass

Before a lost soul wanders this way,

And with all memories of MER forgotten long ago

They’ll think they see a statue standing here,

Sculpted from Gusev’s bone-dry basalt

By some golden-eyed Michelangelo.


© Stuart Atkinson 2012

(This one is for Scott Maxwell, Mars rover driver and all-round great guy, who has supported my writing, and my blog, brilliantly – and if sheer willpower and love could get him to Mars to bodily drag Spirit out of that dust hole, he’d be there right now…)