It could happen today, or in a dozen

Years from now. The news could break

As you’re making your next cup of tea,

A “We interrupt this program” message flashing

On the screen as you reach to turn off the TV,

Heading out to fill up the car, or hang out in a bar

With friends. But whenever it happens

The First Age of Man will end; human history

Divided by a neat, coloured line; on one side

“Before the Signal”, on the other, “After”.



As for who will draw that line, chances are

It will be no doe-eyed, Ellie Arroway

Sitting on a dusty jeep, hugging her knees,

Headphones pressed to her ears,

Scanning the light years for Radio ET.

They’ll probably be a teenage geek,

Sitting at their PC in their battlefield of a room,

Or a 30 year old Citizen Scientist,

Surrounded by Cylon toasters and faded X-Files posters,

NASA TV playing 24/7 in the background.



They won’t be able to keep it secret, of course.

Not in this day and age. Word will get out.

The cat will leap out of the bag,

Into our laps and laptops, screeching.

But how will we hear? An OMG! Tweet

From an intern who just overheard SETI boffins

Whispering through an almost-but-not-quite-closed door?

An embargo-busting blogger, desperate to post

The Biggest Story Of All Time

An hour before the President, nervously straightening

His tie behind a podium, tells the world

“It’s true”..?



Cue all the well-laid plans for secrecy

Being swept away as gaily-coloured banners on TV screens

Around the world declare “Breaking News –

Message from aliens received!” as shocked and disbelieving

Anchors, fingers in ears, or peering at under-desk screens

Stutter “We’re getting reports…”?



A “Where were you when..?” moment to be sure;

Right up there with the death of JFK,

Challenger’s final flight and the toppling

Of  the Towers.

Will you be on your own, reading it on your phone,

Riding the bus to work or killing time,

Sighing in a supermarket queue?

Or will you be at home, micro-waved meal

Balanced on your knee, waiting to see

Your favourite show start on TV only to see, instead,

A studio full of talking heads, figures famous

For their planet-sized brains suddenly just

The same as us – trying in vain to take

It in, the news that We Are Not Alone…



God, I hope I’m not at work that day!

I want to watch it all unfold from my sofa,

Drinking one cup of tea after another

As word ripples around the world, confirmation

That a voice has been heard calling to us

From a faraway star.

I want to watch the endless interviews

With sci-fi scribes and scientists, all insisting

“I knew it all along, the numbers alone

Meant it was impossible for it to be just us!”

I want to watch reporters prowling city centres,

Asking Man or Woman in the Street

How they feel about the news,

Carefully choosing people who they think might actually care,

Just one or two with spiky- or brightly-coloured hair

Approached for comic relief.



Oh, I want to see the politicians preening,

Declaring a sudden, new-found love for science

After years of slashing its budgets to the bone

Like migraine-maddened bears;

I want to see priests scrambling to rearrange their faith

Like kids with Rubiks Cubes,

Twisting and turning the pieces, clicking and clacking

Their beliefs until they’d “known it all along”

And hadn’t been wrong at all.



I want to see Brian Cox standing on a windswept summit

Somewhere, hair blowing in the breeze,

His young Einstein eyes wide with wonder,

Smiling that knowing, Northern smile…

I want to see the first, leaked grainy

Screenshot of The Signal, its discoverer leaning in

From one side, beaming proudly,

Blissfully unaware their messy, Post It Note-

Smothered monitor is The Key

To a real Pandora’s Box.



I want to see the so-called experts struggle

To juggle each new scrap of news,

Refusing to admit they have absolutely no idea

Just what the hell is going on,

Adding two and two to get ten million,

Joining in the greatest game of Chinese Whispers

Ever played…



…and at the end of that historic day,

The Day When Everything Changed,

I want to head out into the night,

Find somewhere quiet to stand alone beneath

The starry sky, look up and say





© Stuart Atkinson 2012



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