My shelves groan under the weight
Of books about Mars.
They bend in the middle, like geological layers
Of stone warped by time, moaning
“No more, please, no more!”
Crammed onto them, almost vacuum-packed
Are paperbacks and hardbacks by the hundred;
Sci-fi novels old and new; atlases and volumes
Of maps and charts; scientific papers
And reports with barely a gap between them.
But on the top shelf – the most important of them all,
Its cover creased and faded now, bleached by the Sun,
Ink smudged in places by my fingers and thumbs,
Its original wasp belly-yellow dulled
To a pale imitation of its former self.
There it is, see? Sandwiched between
Red Mars and The Martian Chronicles,
Between Squyres’ Roving Mars and Clarke’s
Snows of Olympus: The National Geographic
From January 1977,
A special issue celebrating the Viking landings
Of the previous year. Almost an antique now,
Definitely “vintage”, but still as beautiful
As the day I… acquired it from my school in 1981,
The year the first space shuttle flew.
I’d found it in the Leaning Tower of Pisa pile
Of magazines the art teacher kept in a corner for all
Her budding Rembrandts, Constables and Warhols
To browse in search of inspiration.
I was inspired to slip it into my bag and scurry
Out of the room with it, hurrying home
To gaze at its deliciously glossy pages
Filled with photos of the landing sites
At Chryse and Utopia.
© Stuart Atkinson 2018