24 01 2017


Each night, before I go to sleep,
The dusty rocks around my feet
Roll up to me and whisper gently
“Don’t you miss the Earth?”

No, little ones, I smile, how can I miss
Somewhere I have never been?
Or pine for sights and colours
That I have never seen?

For my “Earth” was an alien world of metal, steel and glass,
Where I could never feel sunlight sting my back.
My high-Spirited twin and I were made on screaming lathes,
Bathed in floodlights’ brutal glare.
Our limbs slotted together perfectly like a puzzle’s pieces
To make restless creatures with cameras for eyes
And wheels instead of feet – but we knew no freedom.
We grew up in a pristine prison, within walls white, cream and high;
Shark cages, gantries and cranes crowding in on all sides.
Tested, tested, then tested again,
We prowled a floor scattered with spinning lamps,
Rolled up and down powder blue ramps
Beneath humming lightsabre Suns
As our proud parents watched, white as snowmen, their young
Faces peering out at us through gaps in rustling paper suits.

So, you see, no warm Pasadenan breeze ever wafted over me;
I never looked up to see birds flapping their wings in the swaying trees,
Never saw JPL’s famous deer munching on Spring’s tasty leaves.
And when I finally was set free I left in darkness,
Cocooned inside the petals of a metal flower,
Showered with praise but not the sweet raindrops or the warm honey rays
Of the summer Sun I so longed for –

I felt rocking, heard knocking, then a savage kick from below –

– and woke up… here, 13 of Their years ago.

Here, where the frigid air carries the taste of faraway ice…
Here, where two bone fragment moons drift silently through a lavender sky…
Here, where the so-called Homeworld is just a magnesium-blue spark
Twinkling in the darkening purple dusk…
Here, where every grain of rust-stained dust
Remembers fairy tale thunder and rain…
Here, where phantom rivers and lakes
Haunt Barsoom’s corpse-dry plains…
Here, where blood would flash freeze
Into lifeless rock pools of garnets and rubies…
Here, where Vikings, Sojourner and Spirit come to me in my dreams
As the whispering winds sing me to sleep…
Here, where cold starlight reveals the ghostly outlines
Of martians with eyes of gold, their guns thrumming with bees
As they sail their noble ships over endless cinnamon seas …

No, I tell the drowsy stones – this is my home, more than Earth ever was.
There is nothing there to miss.

© Stuart Atkinson 2017


2 11 2016


Some nights here the sky is so dark,
The black as thick as tar
You wonder if ink is going to drip on your head
As you stand beneath the stars.
You feel that if you trail your fingers
Through the Milky Way they’ll come away
Stained with interstellar ichor,
Snowflake galaxies sticking to your skin
Like lint, sequin supernovae glinting
In your upturned palm…

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016


2 11 2016

You can’t describe it,
They have to see it for themselves.
They have to stand in the darkness,
Wrapped up against the cold,
Hold a Thinsulated glove up to their face
And see it silhouetted against the stars.
They have to drink it in,
Remembering their barren sky back home,
That ugly orange dome with every glittering star erased.
No place in it even for Venus; only a 40 watt
Moon pierces the gloom sometimes,
And the ISS has never been seen
Arcing lazily from west to east –

But here

Gasps in the dark as a blue shooting star
Skips from Pegasus to Plough,
The first some have ever seen;
Laser pointers’ emerald beams sweep across the sky,
One shining right in Cassiopeia’s eyes
As she hangs from her throne overhead;
Its long face stained by the Dark Rift’s dusty birthmark,
The Milky Way is a cloud of campfire smoke
Rising up from behind the trees;
Cygnus’ star clouds shimmer in the midnight breeze
As the Pleiades sparkle in the east;
A voyeur satellite peeks beneath flirty Andromeda’s skirt
Before fading away again…

Some are thrilled by their first paddle
Into this endless sea of stars.
Standing on its shore for the f‏irst time
It’s written on their faces – awe, wonder;
They can hear the universe’s waves roaring in their ears
As they stand in line to peer into an eyepiece
At something else they have never seen before:
A galaxy, a cluster, each one more utterly beautiful
Than the last…
Others struggle to take it in.
There are too many stars, it’s all too large,
And to think that that fuzzy blur The Expert insisted
Is two million light years away
Is frightening, not amazing.
As wide-eyed kids dash from ‘scope to ‘scope
Some feel only lonely and small beneath it all,
Crushed beneath the Cosmos’ uncaring heel –

But over there, in a quiet corner on their own,
Hypnotised by Vega’s vivid light,
Someone else is close to tears.
“I had no idea… no idea” she whispers,
Unknowingly repeating Ellie Arroway’s words
As she bathed her face in the same star’s sapphire light.
I say nothing, just nod and smile,
And stand with her a while,
Remembering how I felt when I was her…

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016


2 11 2016

As the north wind howls past the pods
Once-white camper vans and caravans, sploshed with mud,
Huddle together for warmth behind “The Shop”.
Scattered around them like pieces of modern art
Starlight-starved telescopes shelter beneath heavy bags and sacks,
While awnings flap and crack like galleons’ sails
As the gale bends the trees.
This way then that way they sway,
Dancing beneath scudding clouds of charcoal grey,
Watched forlornly through the Warm Room’s windows
By those whose noses are not pressed against their phones,
Suffering the endless buffering
Of the drinkingstrawband WiFi,
Firing-up one weather App after another
Until they find one predicting clear skies
After dark. That one starry icon is all it takes
To light a spark of hope in their hearts
And send them back to their tents – laptops
recharged, power-pack LEDs shining green
Again – smiling.

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016

Rosetta’s Last Letter Home

29 09 2016

And so, my final day dawns.
Just a few grains are left to drain through
The hourglass of my life.
The Comet is a hole in the sky.
Rolling, turning, a black void churning
Silently beneath me.
Down there, waiting for me, Philae sleeps,
Its bed a cold cave floor,
A quilt of sparkling hoarfrost
Pulled over its head…


I have so little time left;
I sense Death flying behind me,
I feel his breath on my back as I look down
At Ma’at, its pits as black as tar,
A skulls’s empty eye sockets staring back
At me, daring me to leave the safety
Of this dusty sky and fly down to join them,
Never to spread my wings again; never
To soar over The Comet’s tortured pinnacles and peaks,
Or play hide and seek in its jets and plumes…


I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to be buried beneath that filthy snow.
This is wrong! I want to fly on!
There is so much more for me to see,
So much more to do –
But the end is coming soon.
All I ask of you is this: don’t let me crash.
Help me land softly, kissing the ground,
Coming to rest with barely a sound
Like a leaf falling from a tree.
Don’t let me die cartwheeling across the plain,
Wings snapping, cameras shattering,
Pieces of me scattering like shrapnel
Across the ice. Let me end my mayfly life
In peace, whole, not as debris rolling uncontrollably
Into Deir el-Medina…


It’s time to go, I know.
Only hours remain until I join Philae
And my great adventure ends
So I’ll send this and say goodbye.
If I dream, I’ll dream of Earth
Turning beneath me, bathing me in
Fifty shades of blue…
In years to come I hope you’ll think of me
And smile, remembering how, for just a while,
We explored a wonderland of ice and dust
Together, hand in hand.


(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016


8 09 2016



In silence, mouth open in surprise,
I stood beneath the shining Moon.
“It’s only a balloon,” sighed a voice inside
My head, and I knew that, I did,
But my eyes refused to believe it,
Whispering “No, it’s the Moon,
Right there, above you”.

I had to see more.
Clomping up the creaking steps to the balcony
I could see it shining through the door,
The silhouettes of other sightseers
Cut out of it, black ink stains on its glowing face.
I had expected a new Space Race,
A rush to the front, but there was no crush,
Just an awed hush, everyone there
Unable to do anything but stare and stare and stare…
And there – the crescent of Eddington crater.

Downstairs in the darkened church once more
I walked round and and around it, slack-jawed,
Ignoring the hundreds of others gathered there;
Stalking my favourite craters like a hunter,
Smiling when I found them exactly where
They always are in my eyepiece.
There was Tycho – its bright rays
Spraying away from it like splashes of paint;
Schrodinger, with its Donnie Darko rabbit ears,
A fearful hole near the icy southern pole;
Copernicus, mighty Monarch of the Moon,
A cosmic bullet’s entry wound at the end
Of the great Appennine Mountain range…
All perfectly in place –

– and there, right above me,
The most lovely lunar scar of all:
The brutal beauty of Mare Orientale,
A bulls-eye of ancient crags and peaks
Never seen in full from Earth, a sight reserved
For beeping space-probes, Apollo astronauts
And my dreams –

“Where did they land?” an old man asked
From beside me, head tilted back
Like mine. Which ones? I almost replied
But knew exactly who he meant.
Six pairs of boots had stepped carefully down
Ladders to stand on Luna’s plains,
Crump-crumping across the dust,
But only one craft’s name is now remembered:
Eagle, the First, immortalised
By Armstrong’s classic line.
“On the other side,” I sighed,
“Round here,” steering him around a dozen wide-eyed
Children until we both stood beneath Crisium’s
Round, dark birthmark.
“Right… there…” I said, surfing
My laser pointer’s cherry red star
Across the scarred landscape to Tranquility Base.
His face broke into a smile. “Thank you”,
He whispered, “Thank you..” and walked away,
Leaving me alone beneath the Moon.

Wishing it could stay.

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016

Prox b

30 08 2016


Proxima Centauri… Sol’s closest star…

Too faint by far for the naked eye to see
Under even the clearest, Moon-free Chilean sky,
And in a telescope’s eyepiece never more than a mere
Red speck, a spark spat out of a fire.

I can’t even see you from this far north; Earth
Gets in the way. I’d need to pull up my horizon
Like a rug to scan the sky for you,
Searching for a ruddy pollen grain
Halfway between Mars and the stars of the Southern Cross.
But I know you’re there.

For centuries we thought you barren –
A lonely, shrunken sun; a tiny sequin sewn
In the black velvet cloak of the southern sky.
But now we know the treasure you were hiding
All along: circling you, like a moth whirling
‘Round a flame is a world
Destined for fame since its birth.

Tho exo-planet hunters proclaim you
‘Earthlike’ you are not Terra’s twin –
At least, nothing like the Earth as people think of it:
A perfect Christmas tree bauble, glazed blue and white,
Shining in the endless black night of space,
With snow-capped mountains, oceans rolling up
Golden sandy beaches with a hiss, kissing the
Sapphire sky at the horizon.
No. Your discoverers just mean “Roughly the same size
As Earth” when they call you that,
Knowing you could be a Harvey Dent world,
Half your face coated in ice, the other
Covered in syruppy flows of glowing lava.
But “Earth-like” means “like Narnia” to those
Who do not know how scientists’ brains work
So now millions believe we have found “Earth 2”,
A New world just a handful of light years away!
Perfectly placed for a weekend getaway!

“Proxima b” they christened you,
Unimaginatively – but that cold name, useless for such
An important place will be replaced, I’m sure,
With something far more suitable;
More fitting for our first star probe’s target,
Screaming by at 1/10 light speed…

One impossibly faraway day,
The first true ‘star sailors’ will wake
From dreamless sleep to weigh anchor
Off Proxima b. Sweeping in from the Great Dark,
Their ship’s cobweb-fine solar sails flapping
And cracking in the star’s gusting wind
Before finally sliding into orbit
Around the fabled ‘Rock at Prox’.
And then, lips scalded by centuries-old coffee,
Their pale faces will press anxiously
Against snowflake-crusted glass,
Desperate to see ‘b’ with their own eyes
And smiling they’ll whisper
“We made it…’

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016