“Columbus’ Ghost”

If you’re a regular reader (and if you are, thank you for being one!) you’ll know that as well as this blog I also write poetry inspired by astronomy, including poems about the missions of the Mars rovers. For a while now – ever since she arrived, really – I’ve been wanting, and trying, to write something about Santa Maria, because it’s certainly a milestone in the mission. For some reason it just wouldn’t come, it was a real head-meet-brick-wall situation, and very frustrating! But on Wednesday finally, FINALLY, the martian muses tapped me on my shoulder, whispered in my ear, and a poem started to take shape. Two days later it’s finished, so here it is. I hope some of you like it. 🙂

COLUMBUS’ GHOST

Unseen by weary Opportunity as she stares

Down at pale plates of wind-etched, once-wet stone,

The ghost of Columbus glides past, striding

Towards Santa Maria, sword swinging at his side,

His shadow cast o’er the rock-strewn ground

By the low, cold Sun.

No damp deck rolls below him; no

Tide-tortured timbers squeak beneath

His heels; his sea spray stained boots

Crump and crunch through bone dry duricrust now,

With rust-hued boulders, named after his

Famous crew, scattered all around like statues…

Finally he stands at the crater’s crumbling edge,

Stares out across the ancient impact scar

And smiles. The far horizon is as flat as his

Beloved sea – a razor sharp line scored between

The epic butterscotch sky and wide open, Big Country

Plain of ancient Meridiani.

Through his Santa Maria’s creaking rigging

He saw a heaven high and impossibly blue;

But this landscape’s roof has no snow white

Cirrus clouds, no flocks of brightly-painted birds

Cawing and wheeling in the sun.

This dominating dome knows no azure hints or tints;

Nature’s brush rushed to paint all ochre here…

Yet over there, beneath the sepia eastern sky,

Dark mountains catch his explorer’s eye.

The Endeavour range is low, and long,

An island chain rising from an ocean of stone

And wind-whipped dust… and it calls to him,

Beckons him onwards as a strange horizon has always done –

He vanishes, blown away by an icy martian breeze,

Leaving Opportunity to scratch at the rocks

Beneath her wheels, seeking signs of ancient water

On the new New World…

© Stuart Atkinson 2011

…and if you’d like to see an illustrated version, here it is (click to enlarge):

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3 Responses to “Columbus’ Ghost”

  1. Buck says:

    I can smell that ancient sea after reading this poem. Very evocative.

  2. Robert Day says:

    On reading your poem, I can only respond with this, from Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, the ending of the section entitled ‘Passage to India’:

    Sail forth—steer for the deep waters only,
    Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
    For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
    And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

    O my brave soul!
    O farther farther sail!
    O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
    O farther, farther, farther sail!

    How nice to find someone who finds beauty in scientific endeavour and has the means to express it!

  3. J. Major says:

    Excellent work as always Stu!

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