Life on Mars


Hubble's sharpest view of the Orion Nebula. (This has nothing to do with Mars.)
Hubble’s sharpest view of the Orion Nebula. (This has nothing to do with Mars.)

Tracy K. Smith‘s collection of poetry, Life on Mars, is seriously amazing. It won a Pulitzer, but that’s not why it’s amazing. This collection has been described as a kind of extended meditation on her father’s death. Her father was one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble telescope, and she uses “Mars” and space exploration as a metaphor throughout. This book is full of sci-fi references as well, which appeals to this geek in me, and I admire how seamlessly she blends sci-fi pop culture into a very artistic consideration of birth, death, and life. It’s a really fabulous collection, and it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite to share with you today.  So this is not my favorite, because they’re all my favorite. This is a section of a longer poem. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you go find this whole book (it’s short, like most non-anthology poetry books) and read it. You will be delighted and edified. (PS Don’t forget to leave a comment so you can be entered in the poetry giveaway!)

from My God, It’s Full of Stars


Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone–a momentary blip–

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they–we–flicker in.


Maybe the dead k now, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want it to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

So that I might be sitting now beside my father

As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe

For the first time in the winter of 1959.

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