Steve's Farewell by Stuart Atkinson

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We are alone now, you and I.
The others, in their bunny suits,
burning blue flames against the tall, ice-white
walls have all gone, home to loved ones,
lost ones, beds and bedtime stories
and, eventually, perhaps, dreams...
I could not sleep, not tonight, for sleep
would mean leaving you here alone
in this cold and lonely place
before exiling you from Earth forever –
unless, in some far future kindly colonists
dust you off, crate you up and send you
home again to us…
To me…

I watched you and your sister grow, from seeds
small as a thought to the things
of beauty you are now – tall and proud,
shining in this harsh, halogen-light,
waiting to be wrapped and packed, despatched
with all of Man’s inquisitive rage
to the Other World, that globe of stones
and bone dry fines which might,
when weary Earth has been bled dry,
one day become our Home.
Yet now, mere hours before you take
your leave of your proud parents, cocooned
inside your cushioned shroud,
some part of me screams “Stay!”

For there is danger there, my little traveller.
Others sent before you have been slain:
after leaving Earth to cheers and fanfare loud,
travelling through the void in innocent sleep
some smeared into glowing, ghastly trails,
brains dashed against Ares’ barely-there air;
others smashed to clouds of tinkling, twinkling
pieces, shattered metal, glass and dreams;
a few - swallowed whole like Jonah by Barsoom’s
cruel valleys, snow and seas of dust -
may wait there yet, wondering why
their plaintive cries have not been heard,
why no-one answered when they chirped
“I have arrived! What now..?”

Beware Gusev’s Darcy-dapper dust devils,
who will bow down before and flatter you with
cool requests to take their arm and dance.
Refuse them and their seductive songs, and live.

I envy you,
I fear for you
as I touch you one last time,
reach out with shaking, sterile hands
to feel the coldness of your skin;
wave frightened fingers slowly
past your shining, sightless eyes
that have never seen the Sun
just sun-bright bulbs, buzzing strip-lights,
highlights reflecting off flickering screens
and visors protecting the eyes
of we who dared imagine you,
then drew then built you, here,
in this day-less, night-less tomb.

Tomb? No, more a womb
for you are not yet born;
you will not breathe or move
or see or touch until this world
has curled halfway around the Sun
and you are on another.
But now, here, in these silent shadows
you are safe. The air, you breathe, scrubbed
& filtered clean is purer than angel breath, than love;
Here we have protected you, watched over you,
shielded you from the heat and horrors
of the world you soon will leave and,
looking back, will struggle to find
twinkling in Mars’ indigo dusk sky.

None of Earth’s warm, worm-mulched dirt
has ever touched your wheels yet you will steal
soon across cloying clays Ages old when Earth was young.
Our sky, its puffball clouds and sunsets gold
will all be alien to you, sights you have never seen.
A blessing, perhaps: no memories of rain
-dripping trees or falling leaves will taunt
or haunt you as you rove that dust-choked world.
You cannot keen for Earth’s cool streams
if their clear waters have never eased your thirst.
Yet… strange, so strange, to think the first
time you feel Sol’s rays touch your face
they will have passed and warmed
my world before reaching yours…

I love you, yet hate you for the sights
and scenes that will greet your wide eyes
as you emerge, blinking, from your soft cocoon,
stretching out your wings.
Your first solbreak will be grapefruit pink;
your first noon sky warm honey, smeared
with swirls and whorls of silvered cloud.
In all directions, rocks, each one a treasured page
ripped out in rage from Mars’ autobiography,
scattered by its feeble winds to land in
or block your path or lodge inside your wheels.
Two moons will race and chase
each other ‘cross the sky, dull grey, cratered skulls
grinning at you, laughing as you struggle on your way.

So, farewell. I will watch you –
the world will watch you - as you trek across
the ancient crater’s floor, dwarfed both by
the sky and expectations of your kin.

I am already proud of you.

© Stuart Atkinson 2006