The first time I saw you I was
Fifteen, I think, just starting
To discover the sky. I’d
Been “into space” since I was five
– From the day I was made to sit in front of
The Big TV in school
To watch Apollo astronauts kangaroo-
Hopping across the Moon,
Lighting a flame in me
That would never go out –
But the sky above my head remained
A mystery. Eclipses, comets, meteor showers,
All passed by without me even trying
To see them, but finally I turned my eyes
Away from the distractions of the small screen,
Away from JR’s sneer, Daisy Dukes’ shorts
And Metal Mickey’s puns, to gaze up at Up There,
And realised what I’d missed.
And top of my “Things To See” list was you.
I’d been drawn to you, fascinated by you,
Some would later say obsessed with you
Since I was old enough to pick up a book.
Hiding in school libraries at breaktimes when I should
Have been outside “playing” in the Sun,
My idea of fun was reading about your volcanoes
And valleys, canyons and craters,
Imagining exploring your great deserts, mountains and plains.
And then, one night, I finally saw you –
Not on TV, or in a magazine,
Not on the pages of a book in a library
But with my own eyes. Through my first telescope
You were a tiny thing, an orange disc trembling
In my snow-white Tasco’s crappy eyepiece
But I was hypnotised.
There was your pole, a pale blue dot
Beneath the brown-grey “Never thought I’d see it”
V of Syrtis Major.
And even though you wriggled and shook
Like a fish fighting on a hook
That first view of you was more magical,
More real than any of the Viking pair’s
Fast forward forty years.
Every day my phone shows me the latest photos
Of you taken by robot rovers;
Spy satellites rolling endlessly in orbit high
Above you send back images so detailed they show
The shadows of individual boulders
On the floor of Valles Marineris.
I live in the sci-fi future I longed for as a child.
But I’ll never forget my first view of you,
On the night a red star became Barsoom.
© Stuart Atkinson 2018