Laika’s ghost is my companion on lonely stargazing nights.
In winter, shivering beneath Betelgeuse’s blood red eye
I reach down and quietly scratch her head,
Smiling as she nuzzles my hand, content,
Making no demands, her warm breath
Thawing my frozen fingers
While I fumble with eyepieces in the dark,
Firefly sparks of year’s end stars shining around us.
In summer, standing beneath the Milky Way’s arch,
Struck dumb by the beauty of its mottled clouds
I feel her running around my legs,
Weaving in and out again, a puppy at play
Until, wearily, she settles at my feet, leaning against
Me, fighting to stay awake, failing, finally
Falling asleep on the dew-damp grass.
Feet and tail are soon a’twitch, whimpering, lost
In dreams of fields never ran across,
Of icy rivers never splashed through,
Balls laughing children never threw for her,
Cartwheeling sticks never chased and returned…
I watch her eyelids dance as memories return.
Thunder rolling up from far below, tossed and thrown
From side to side, trapped within a tiny metal tomb
With steel walls inches from her face –
Suddenly, peace…quiet…she is in space.
Panting in the darkness, fascinated
To see dust and hairs drifting in slow motion
Through the already stale air –
Then the world spinning, round and around,
Needles of heat pricking from all sides,
Lungs filling with lava as the air grows furnace hot,
The last hours of her stolen life slipping away,
Thankfully asleep long before she has to see her sweat-matted fur
Catching fire before her eyes –
She wakes with a cry and I stroke her shaking head
Until the nightmares fade and she knows peace again.
Looking down I see her sitting beside me now.
Quiet, still, savouring the chill of this Perseid night,
Bright eyes staring at the murdering sky,
Remembering how she died a shooting star.
© Stuart Atkinson 2015