The Space Cadet Science Fiction Review, Spring 2022 (issue #1)

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Pg. 50

Poetry by John Grey

Your Man in Space

Wearily desperate am I — not a single fossil.
I’ve scoured this soil until the dust ate my lungs,
grayed my hair and spackled my flesh.
And for what? So astro-geology can wither
on the strata vines of this planet.
What I would give for one imprint of a leaf
or a footprint or . . . how many ways can I say life?
I chip away at nothingness,
as seven haughty moons rise in the sky
and shadows bedevil hope
as they do with every craven sunset.

My spacesuit weighs down on me.
Surly air circulates through my lungs and
an attached respirator — does it even know the difference?
The pastel horizon shimmers with red-orange beauty.
But so do forests just before the death.
Besides, my horizon is in the ground.
I chisel my way toward it, one rock,
one clump of dirt, at a time.
Where’s the fool who theorized
this heartbreak plain was once an ocean bed?
He quarries in briny dreams.
And here’s me, stuck with the hard stuff.
Vladimir waves from the ditch that
constitutes his past six months of back-busting.
Cards and vodka later back at the dome –
now that’s what I call a scientific breakthrough.

Time to go in — above, a full range of stars
occupy the usual animal shapes.
There’s four of us in all,
domed out of harm’s way,
encased in a giant portable igloo.
Drink and nibble food and conversation —
it’s like a return journey to a neighborhood bar,
another place where we’ve all done our share
of scouring and coming up empty.
Still, it’s the closest thing to home we have,
with its ceiling window,
our very own planetarium,
if we ever bother to look.

When I left on this assignment,
you told me you would wait for me,
But you also said I’d make discoveries enough
to elevate and decorate my name.
But I know what unfilled dreams are like –
sheets of stacked time,
each one as barren as the last.

When I return, I’ll have nothing for you.
And I’ll be raked across bureaucratic coals.
Opposition politicians will shove a wasted expedition’s cost
down the throat of everyone who voted for it.
We’ll be ridiculed, parodied.
Just try taking a buffoon in your arms.
Clueless, asinine, fiasco – I dare you to find love there.

Yes, your missives say all is well.
You update me on our mutual friends:
some successes, some failures,
but nothing to shake the Earth’s orbit.
They just have human needs to deal with.
The universe doesn’t concern them.
They don’t start out big and come back small.
They were all small to begin with.

Tomorrow, I will exit the dome,
spend another fruitless day
searching for what never was here.
Do you really want me to come back to you?
To spend a lifetime together
showing you how that’s done?