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Viking 1

ISSUE:  Spring 2010
Viking Lander 1 made its final transmission to Earth November 11, 1982

On approach to Mars, dunefields in the distance,
the spacecraft descends within a storm of dust
before landing on the Golden Plain, Chryse Planitia,
which is a vast and stony desert, a graveyard
of shadows cast sanguine in their repose.

Cameras click in shuttered housings. The landscape
a pornographic scene caught in apertures
opened wide: sand tables in their martial aspect,
compass points, barchan dunes, the far horizon’s body line
in rocky silhouette, where Earth is a small, warm light
rising zenith blue beyond the dusk, where I am still a boy,
barefoot on the wet grass of the San Joaquin valley,
the millions of miles between made closer by opposition.

In the old days, they say the desert Arabs hung lanterns
high in the date palms, a guide for friends and strangers
traveling by night. And maybe that’s what I’m doing
as I search for lamps in the night’s vast amphitheater,
even if I don’t know how to put it into words—
I’m searching for the face on Mars, so much like our own,
made from dust and to dust returning, the wind’s erosion
calling into the void with that brutal instrument, pain.
And like so many before me, I listen.
I want to hear how the great questions posed by ruin
are given the elegant response of stone.

How we, like Aphrodite, are seduced.


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