ON APPROACH

Look sunwards, ancient, lonely one
And you will see a tiny golden light
Shining in the stygian night, for
A fragile glass and metal butterfly
Speeds towards you – an Ambassador
From the warm and water-soaked Third World
Comes to make First Contact, to end your exile
In the Kuiper Belt and finally touch your mysterious face.

When Tombaugh found you Terra was a world in mourning.
Man’s heart, tattered, terrified and torn after the War
To End All Wars, was just daring to fill with hope again;
From fields stained a thousand shades of burgundy
By the blood of a million men our tired eyes
And weary minds were turning to the sky once more,
Seeking new worlds whirling around the Sun –
And eventually we found one.

A young Kansan owl, tall in tweed suit and tie was your discoverer.
Flicking patiently between a pair of photographic plates
Taken days apart, his wise, farm boy’s eyes
Searched silently for any sign of movement ‘twixt the two –
And suddenly there you were, a cosmic flea leaping from A to B!
Something real this time; not the fantastic
Fork-scraped chaos of cross-hatched canals
Scarring Barsoom’s beautiful face Lowell
Insisted he saw from the same place 35 years before,
But something much, much more –
Another world! Another Copernican orb
Circling our chandalier star!

Having been found lurking on the Solar System’s edge,
Christened “Pluto” in honour of the Underworld’s
Most regal ruler, you gave up your secrets but slowly.
Charon, hiding shyly in your feeble glare,
Was the first of your companions to be revealed;
Four more have emerged from your shadow since.
But even to Hubble’s COSTAR-monocle eye
You are merely a minute, mottled disc.
Tantalising traces of light and dark are painted on your face –
Hints, perhaps, of mighty mountains, craters and plains
Just waiting to be found and named,
But for now blurred by distance into a pizza of pixels…

You proudly bore the title “planet” for 75
Of Earth’s years – immortalised in poetry, stories and songs,
Your name even stolen by a floppy-eared Disney dog –
Before that quarrelsome quango came along
And staged their coup, demoting you
In one fell swoop from noble god to banished dwarf.
No matter. A world is still a world by any other name,
And soon yours will be on everybody’s lips.
As mankind gazes upon your face for the first time,
And as a pinch of Tombaugh’s ashes dashes past,
En-route to the stars, the first portraits of your icy valleys
And hills will be reTweeted and Shared ten thousand times,
Each one igniting flames of curiosity in a generation’s mind
Like nothing ever seen before. A Plutonian atlas, written overnight,
Will show your canyons and craters, labelled with names honouring,
We hope, those who have brought us to
This historic moment in time: if no lofty ice-capped peak
Is christened “Mount Berney” the Gods will be angry indeed.

Until then, have patience, poor frozen, lonely one.
We will be with you soon.

© Stuart Atkinson 2015

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