Archive for August 9th, 2012

Life on Mars, life on earth: Mi casa es su casa.

Thursday, August 9th, 2012


Curiosity drops its heat shield and descends to Mars (Photo by NASA)

According to the Washington Post:

“The photo-snapping rover Curiosity returned another postcard from Mars on Thursday — the first 360-degree color panorama of Gale Crater.

“Scientists admired the sweeping vista — red dust, dark sand dunes and tan-hued rocks. In the distance was the base of Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mountain rising from the crater floor, where the six-wheel rover planned to go.”

Photos, photos, photos. Just like any tourist.  And plenty of postcards, too.

I had been more or less ignoring the brouhaha about the Mars exploration – until this morning, when a book fell from a pile of books by my bed.  It was Tracy K. Smiths Pulitzer-prizewinning collection of poems, Life on Mars (Graywolf).

I wrote about Tracy, a former Stegner Fellow, here.

When I interviewed her after her award, she was bubbly and courteous.  She had celebrated the Pulitzer on her 40th birthday, with champagne.  She talked about her upbringing and her father, who had been one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.  Science and space infuse and inform her poetry.

Chip off the old block

But would she have anything to say to us on this particular occasion? I thumbed through the book.

Several passages seemed pertinent. From the oft-quoted “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” in which the universe is

. . . 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.

Or this, from the same poem:

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,

I found instead the last lines of this poem, “The Universe is a House Party.”

…We grind lenses to an impossible strength,

Point them toward the future, and dream of beings
We’ll welcome with indefatigable hospitality:

How marvelous you’ve come! We won’t flinch
At the pinprick mouths, the nubbin limbs. We’ll rise,

Gracile, robust. Mi casa es su casa.  Never more sincere.
Seeing us, they’ll know exactly what we mean.

Of course, it’s ours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s ours.