A trick, perhaps, the modified mission.
Four years extended to infinity,
duty turned to thermoelectric burden.
Neptune long gone, Andromeda still light years away:
this abyss the opposite of adventure.
How can I explain? We haven’t been there,
but we’ve been there. I won’t tell you
to embrace the space between destinations,
call someplace empty endurable, worthy.
But when you hit that unknowable edge,
Earth’s message tucked inside your metal heart,
resist despair. It’s true: you can never
come home. The view is a dark challenge,
but you will always have our sun at your back,
and the memory of warmth, of light.
Long-lost, they call you.
The sun’s brightest sibling.
No, I made that part up—not
brightest—but bright, surely, and close
-ish. Not a twin, but honestly,
that makes you more special
to us: a gas cloud with its own face.
We respect your individuality!
But understand: tied to us.
Born when ours was born.
A shared history, we call that.
We call that a memory.
Whether or not you ever consider us
family, you have been found
and claimed. Hurl yourself another
110 light-years from what you know,
if you must, if you must:
you can never, now,
not be ours.
Of it, you remember almost nothing:
a name, a vague intention, explore,
a dish strapped to a giant battery pack.
If you had to guess, you’d say it was resting
in a Florida museum now, or circling
Saturn in a thousand metal pieces.
When you learn the truth, the Voyager
still sludging through charged particles
at the edge of the solar system, 11 billion miles
from home, your exhale reveals only obligatory awe:
of planetary distances, of cosmic thrust,
you understand almost nothing.
But later, walking through the animal shelter,
harvesting rhubarb, making children, you’ll develop
a kind of wonder for that trucking space craft:
the one that never gives up. Is it lonely?
Is it tired? Almost nothing
is certain in this galaxy, or the next, or the next.
Of the sun, you only know
how the light hits your kitchen table in the early hours,
highlighting a cheekbone, an empty spoon.
Of the Voyager’s insistent push through the heavy bubble
of that star’s emissions, you only wonder:
is it the kind of bubble you can touch?
Believe me when I tell you
we tried. Here, wanting
is not the same thing as having.
Absence evident as mountains,
a grief and reason.
Trees, hearts, silver:
we offer what we saved,
and even what we didn’t.
Our waste more than waste:
Here, there’s such a thing
as belief, which may or may
not involve the shutting
of eyes. Later, we’ll teach you
darkness, how to spend,
how much it feels like love.
Poetry judge Pattiann Rogers says…
These poems have been carefully crafted by a talented hand, the forms tight and the tone subdued. They are all equally strong and engaging, and yet each is unique in its contribution to the themes of the set as a whole. A panorama of visions on many levels is the result. The poems bring new perspectives to the contest theme, (Dis)placement–from home to 11 billion miles from home, from kitchen to HD 162826, from knowledge to absence and back. I like where these poems take me, places that make me glad and afraid at the same time, that cause me to remember again the release of the universe, the need for the near and the tangible, the limitations of the human. I most admire the voice of the poems, an easy, forthright, conversational voice consoling a space craft, instructing a gas cloud, speaking to itself and to us, a voice both witty and touching. This poet has addressed aspects of the place of our place that are rarely considered in fine poetry, certainly rarely considered with such a voice. This set of poems has been a joy to find and to keep.
G. L. Grey received her MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers and has been published in various literary journals. She teaches at Gonzaga University.
Artist rendering of Saturn and moons courtesy NASA/JPL.