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,
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