Camping at Cape York

5 07 2012







At sunset, after walking up the Shoemaker Ridge spine

Of this rocky island – past the eye socket

Of Odyssey, through the “Rock Garden” of

Broken boulders and blocks

Standing around it like vandalised gravestones

In a martian cemetery, they’ll drop down from Greeley

Haven, boots crumping through the North Pole dust,

And set up camp right here.



Here – on the north edge of the Cape,

With the peaks of the eastern mountains painted

Gold with Ares alpenglow, and their own shadows

Stretching across Endeavour’s dustbowl floor,

Like Opportunity’s did so many years before,

They’ll pitch their tent – kids, mum and dad

On a much-needed family holiday

Away from the Outpost’s habs and labs;

Away from the madness of trying to survive

On a world where death is always just an icy breath away.



Here – a blessed sanctuary, somewhere to lazily

Re-read much-loved, antique paper copies

Of the tall tales of Bradbury, Robinson and Clarke;

To kneel down in the bone-dry sand,

Picking up stones in fat, gloved hands

And imagine their epic history,

Tossed here from o’er the horizon

By impacts that set the planet ringing

Like a bell, flying through the air like shells

In a geological battle Tolkien would have envied.



Here – a perfect place to sit on makeshift

Camping chairs in once-white now sepia surface suits

And watch the New World go by;

Or lay on their backs and find simple delight

In the changing colour of the sky,

Sliding through a spectrum of martian hues,

From the gunmetal greys of the dusty dawn

To the warm caramels of mid-day,

Before falling all the way back again.

And then, as the Sun drops towards the endless sands,

Plunging the land into a lavender-hued twilight,

They’ll stand together, hand in hand,

Staring at the western sky, smiling at the sight

Of a blue-and-green sequin star shining

There – but not thinking “That’s Home”,

For home will be all around them,

Reflected in each glittering gypsum vein,

Etched into every dusty stone

And shattered crockery rocky plate;

Burning in each heaven-skating shooting star…



© Stuart Atkinson 2012


2 07 2012










What a way to come home,

To return from the serenity of space.

Astronaut action figures crammed into a tin can,

Smell of sweat in the air,

Flames flaring around the hatch,

Gravity grabbing at your ass

From below, pulling you home,

Zombie hands

Dragging you down

Into the ground

Faster than the speed of sound

As black turns slowly to blue and –

With a cracked-twig snap the parachute blooms

Above you – a beautiful rose of rope

And snow-white cloth, lowering you

To the saffron-hued Steppes far below,

And now falling through a halo of helicopters,

Swapping nervous “We made it this far!”

Smiles with your fire-riding friends

Before the deafening bang of the braking

Rockets – scheduled but still a sphincter-

Tightening surprise – heralds your return

To Terra Firma –

The SLAM! into the ground is like

A tsunami of pain, a sickening ripple

Of “Oompff!” rolling up through

Your body from below, shaking your

Micro-gravity-thinned twiggy bones

Like sticks in a paper bag before you sag

Sideways, straps cutting into your heaving

Chest like cheese-wires –

A blinding burst of blue above!

And you look up, blinking, into

A tiny circle of sky, white clouds

Drifting by, drifting in and out of view,

A miniature Earth right there above your head

Until strangers’ faces loom over you,

Blotting out the heavens with their

Grins, their teary eyes singing

“”You’re back! Welcome home!” –

Hauled out of your padded couch,

Manhandled down the capsule’s charred

Side, boots slipping and skidding on the flakes

Of paint the dragon breath of re-entry

Burned away before you’re carried away

And dropped onto what looks suspiciously

Like a cheap camping chair,

Barely strong enough to take the weight

Of your sweat-stained suit and all the expectations

Piled upon you before you fled,

Before you put your helmet on and left

The Earth and all its woes behind.

You were gone just for a while,

But long enough to know that the saying is true,

Home is where the heart is – and your heart

Isn’t here any more, beneath the clouds,

Beneath the sky; it’s up there, above all this,

Above the chaos of Kardashians and clowns,

Above the lying politicians and bloodstained ground…

Up there – in that maze of pressurised tubes

And brightly-coloured flying robot cubes;

Where laptops cling like bats to every ceiling,

Wall and floor and dawn breaks a dozen times a day;

Where gravity is just a word,

And shooting stars fall beneath your feet,

That’s where you should be –

“I know, it’s good to be home”, a woman smiles,

Kneeling down by your side,

Thinking she knows why you’re crying

As you gaze past her face at the sky…

© Stuart Atkinson 2012


2 07 2012



Stop for a moment and think about this:

Today, 3000 sols after streaking through its salmon-pink sky,

Bouncing across Barsoom like a giant’s beach ball,

Opportunity’s heart-flame of exploration still burns bright;

The Rover That Should Have Died By Now

Refuses to go softly into the martian night.


Remember how, as we celebrated her arrival,

Whooping with relief as each new picture was revealed,

We all hoped she might survive 90 dusty days?

Remember how, seeing El Capitan’s parchment-thin layers of stone

We crossed our fingers, daring to dream she’d roam

Long enough to cross a klick of Mars?

Oh, we of little faith!

She is still there, still roving;

Her wheels have rolled over almost 35k of ancient stone –

130 times farther than Orville flew across Kitty Hawk;

A dozen times farther than Armstrong walked

On the Moon; 4 times farther than Everest is high!


Yestersol’s photos showed what cynics love to call

“The usual” – a plain, scattered with boulders and pebbles,

Ruddy rocks doing absolutely nothing

Under a rusted Roman coin Sun.

Over there, across Endeavour’s floor:

Her faraway eastern hills; rising up behind: the Stegosaur spine

Of Cape York; over her frozen shoulder: gypsum veins shining

On the ground like slug trails.

A landscape only a loyal Rover Hugger could love.


But I heard a rumour of photos from late 2999:

Three out of focus frames taken just before sunset,

When shadows grow long and Ares’ orange sky turns grey,

A truly ‘unexpected sequence’ capturing something strange…

So strange they could never be displayed

On Exploratorium, or any of the web pages

Rover fans such as you and I rely on

For our daily fix of pan- and nav-cam pics –


I heard the first shows an old man – mop of salt white hair,

Glasses and a love-of life-grin –

Standing on Cape York’s shell-free shore,

Gazing out across the dusty sea of southern Meridiani,

Looking towards the horizon where a ghostly shape

Is silhouetted against the lavender sky…


On the second the man is smiling widely, beaming

As an emerald hulled sand ship skims towards him

Across the dusky purple sands, its Kingfisher wing-

Blue sails filled by the whispers of the desert wind…


On the third and final image, the grainiest of all,

The old man is standing on the sand ship’s prow

As it sails off into the night. By his side, another figure,

Dark and golden-eyed beneath the mask hiding his face,

One of a race already old when Man was still an ape

Hurling half-gnawed bones into the sky…


A fantasy, of course; such a thing could never be.

Mars has no spirits of martian warriors or terran dreamers.

But some might wonder why, as Sol 3000 approached,

The flow of images from Ares suddenly froze…


© Stuart Atkinson 2012


Note: huge thank you to my great friend Glen Nagle for creating a beautiful, illustrated of this poem. You can find it on his blog:

MER Sol 3000 « Astro0′s Weblog