Winner : Terrain.org 6th Annual Poetry Contest
Selected by Pattiann Rogers
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.
Artist rendering of Saturn and moons courtesy NASA/JPL.