Endeavour comes Home

22 10 2012



I must admit, sitting at my PC’s dusty screen

I followed Endeavour’s final journey

With mixed feelings, opposing voices

Whispering in my ears as she was steered

Slowly through LA’s crazy maze

Of  Sun-bleached roads and streets,

Wings passing over the sawdust-haloed stumps

Of once-great trees,

Watched by crowds of starry-eyed Angelenos

And Moon-faced space enthusiasts

In their favourite, faded NASA tees

And KSC-bought astronaut shades.



Part of me marvelled at the bizarre sight,

Delighted to see the famous spacecraft

Welcomed to her final resting place

With such fanfare. What a relief there’d be

No shameful end of days for her;

No Buran abandonment, no exile in a pauper’s grave

Of dust and rust, but a gloriously-lit

Throne room of her own, worshipped

From all sides, lights reflecting off her

Windows, tiles and tyres as lines

Of acolytes – desperate to see a real

Spaceship celebrity – file past,

IPhone cameras flashing, shaking their heads

In disbelief as they finally see

Just how big she was, how beautifully

Her wings swept back, how black

Her Apollo capsule-sized engines were…

Remembering how they’d watched her

Rise from pad into the poster paint blue

Sky, climbing twin pillars of roaring

Dragonfyre to soar among the stars,

Ignoring the pleading of gravity

To sing “Look at me, I’m free, free..!”



…but, whispering in my other ear another voice,

Sad, aggrieved, unable to believe

How, after years of condemning her as

“Death with Wings”, of writing and saying terrible things

About her and the cost of her flights

Fawning crowds now fall at her feet,

Furiously Tweeting declarations of undying love

For her as she passes the end of their street,

Crying out “We miss you!” as she rolls

In slow motion around the corner

And finally slides out of sight…



And in the back of my mind now a third voice,

Less kind, angry at the sight of her being dragged

Through the city like some captured, exotic beast,

Paraded for the baying crowds like Kong,

Pulled along by invisible chains, a snow white meteorite

Banished from the sky and sentenced to exile on Earth;

Not “A Heroine Come Home” at all,

But an engineered angel fallen from heaven

And thrown into an air-conditioned, floodlit cell,

Surely a spacecraft’s idea of Hell

After a lifetime of bathing in starlight,

Of feeling the icy kiss of Earthlight

On her bare shoulder as she rolled, pitched

And yawed above the bored, envious Earth…



One day I’ll cross the ocean to see her myself;

Pad pilgrim-softly through the Museum’s

Corridors and halls to stand before her and,

At least in my mind, fall to my knees.

Then those voices will whisper in my ears again,

Unheard by anyone else standing there

Clutching their cameras and bulging gift shop bags.

One will say “Thank you, for all that you were,”

The other will say “I’m sorry…”


© Stuart Atkinson 2012

The Watching Hills

6 10 2012


When people eventually reach this place,

Scanning the landscape through visors etched

And scratched by Gale’s windblown grit, it’s not

The gentle hump of Mt Sharp that will call to them,

Not the mesas and buttes of Aeolis Mons foothills

That will make them shake their heads in disbelief,

But what they see on the far horizon.

Past the miles of countless stones;

Past Glenelg’s pale, powdery pits

To where the sky and the ground kiss;

Where mist dulls and dims the great crater’s epic rim;

Where Heaven-high hills painted purple and violet

By the violent twilight, piled upon each other,

Peer over each other’s shoulder to see

The strange creatures that fell from the stars;

Where a stately procession of peaks fades away

To a faraway skyline.



Dry now – dusty, cold;

Museum exhibit mountains already old

When Everest and her Himalayan brood

Were being born.

Rivers once ran through them; icy water cascaded

Over their crimson cliffs to vomit sediment

And silt across the crater floor

In a fan of fines and stones.

The debris of those floods lies all around:

When Curiosity looks down she sees water-rounded

Pebbles embedded in the broken paving stone ground,

The fossilised remains of a giddy geological game

Played by rushing water and stubborn rocks.



If you’d stood here a billion years ago,

Perhaps two, waves would have lapped gently

Around your feet – maybe higher,

Maybe rolled in slow martian motion past your knees,

And looking down you’d have seen stream-

Polished stones swimming past your boots,

Tumbling over and over and over…



–         all gone now: a dry, dead riverbed all that’s left

For a nuclear-powered rover to find millennia later

In a blaring fanfare of scientific glee, her Team

Grinning from a starkly-lit stage as they announce

Their findings to the world, wondering, behind their grins,

How the hell they can get images back from an alien

World halfway across Sol’s system but reporters

Attempting to phone in questions would be better served

By smoke signals, or ouija boards,

Or pigeons with hastily-scrawled

Notes strapped to their scrawny legs.



Yes, future travellers and tourists will love those hills,

Caress their cliffs and ridges with tired sightseer eyes.

Then, bathed in morning’s marmalade light climb, climb,

Trekking up valleys and canyons, winding past ridges

And outcrops before standing in triumph on their summits,

Mountain-conquering, arms-outstretched

Winsletts and DiCaprios, Kings (and Queens)

Of the New World –



But for now all we have are photographs,

Pixelated portraits taken by a slowly roaming robot,

And sadly our oh-so Curious rover

Will never be closer to the Watching Hills

Than she is right now.

So enjoy this view, drink it in,

Roll it around your mind like a fine martian wine

And envy those who, in years to come,

Will walk in Curiosity’s tracks,

Whispering to their partners “Look at that…”



© Stuart Atkinson 2012