It’s been quiet here.
I don’t mean the sounds. It’s just - all so clean,
vacuum-packed and controlled.
We with our treadmills, working our legs each day
so we don’t forget what it is to walk
while we float through the star-drenched heavens -
to land on rock again
and know you’ve returned to a world that flows.
- diary aboard Odysseus I, day 1 of contact
(this is shit. i know it’s shit. i’ll edit it later. they’re really counting on me to turn out some god-tier poetry - everyone else here is a hardcore math nerd and couldn’t string a verse together to save their life. half don’t even know who emily dickinson is. disgraceful. whatever. just means i have to be the one to commemorate this moment for all humankind, alone, which isn’t a lot of pressure at all and which i’m definitely qualified for just because that stupid book of mine won a prize.
it’s utter shit but at least i’ve got something written. i’ll come back to this. figure it out.)
Will it ever not feel like a dream?
The whispered dream passed from mother to son
since we first struck stone to stone
on Earth -
one day, child,
we’ll reach the stars
and we’ll know them by name when we do.
Can it ever feel real
to set feet down on pale blue grass,
to remove aloof helmets
and breathe -
in a world so long away,
to taste air that tastes like home?
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 2 of contact
(what kind of an ending line is that? used the word taste twice. i’m losing it. it was just nice to be out of the ship, all right, nice to have gravity again. nice to really, actually stretch my legs. but after this long without that our blood flows are all off and we have to spend most of our time resting. stupid.
where we’ve landed is gorgeous though. the blue grass. i didn’t do it justice. it’s softer than grass on earth, it feels like the super thin kind of noodles. and the blue is bright glowy blue like luke’s lightsaber. that’s not poetic enough to include in the collection. need to find some higher-brow metaphors. and there are these mounds that look like anthills, probably support some kind of life. who knows if they’re the sapient species or if there’s more than one sapient species or what the hell’s going on. that’s for them to figure out and me to fail to write about.
i’m going to sleep now.)
The world exists without boundaries,
without outlines. No sound is understandable
but all are saturated with potential.
Who’s there? Do they see us? Can they know how far we’ve come?
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 5 of contact
(not particularly astute, but it does capture how i’m feeling, at least. how am i supposed to describe any of this in words?)
We await with infinite patience
the responding call of our sisters and brothers.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 6 of contact
(patience is not running infinite over here.)
Time stretches like spiderweb thread.
The days are longer here,
and we despair of counting them.
There are no measurements equal to this new time.
We have not spent a single hour here.
“Hour” is too pedestrian a term,
too tied up in clocks and lunchtimes,
work shifts and classes.
We skate atop a time
we understand too little to plunge into.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 17 of contact
(this one’s just a fancy way to say nothing’s happening and we’re bored. we go a little farther from the ship every day, but they make us be super careful and document every inch of ground we cover with all these calculations. i’m along for all of it, but it’s not like i can participate. and although they’re all falling over themselves about the unique leaf structures on the weird flowy trees and shit, nothing actually exciting has happened. still no word from whatever sentient life-forms might live here. if they’re trying to contact us, we’re not getting the message.
hope we’re not stepping on them or something. hope they’re not about to step on us.
they warned us about this before we left. warned us that spending five years on an alien planet was just as likely to be boring and frustrating and lonely as it was to be exciting. but there’s the feeling among all of us that, honestly, no one on earth had any idea how it was going to feel. none of them can imagine what this is like.)
We don’t dream of the stars here.
how unlike our ancestors.
When we dream we dream of earth.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 22 of contact
(we’re starting to get homesick. over our vacuum-packed dinner last night we told stories of stuff we did in high school. which teachers we had crushes on. turns out we all had things for our eleventh-grade history teachers, and we had a good laugh about that. that was three hours. then someone started crying.)
The fear is not, anymore, of hostile aliens.
Large creatures with hungry jaws
or intelligent creatures with foreign-fearing minds
are things we know and can prepare for.
What we fear
is that the air itself is not for us.
that it is boring into us,
reaching its fingers inside to pull us apart.
We fear this world is swallowing us.
That when it’s done,
there will be nothing left
of our ship or our footsteps or our dreams,
nothing but a stain on star-drenched space
and then, later, nothing.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 27 of contact
(how do i put this into poetry? how do i write for a million years’ posterity that we’re the best and brightest of the world and we’re all just confused and scared up here? that we have no idea what we’re doing, just making it up as we go along? it’s all shit. none of this poetry comes close to describing anything real. i’m reading it over and all i see is pretentious garbage and i can’t believe this is what i have to come back to earth with. assuming we survive.
they approached me about this, said it’d be the opportunity of a lifetime. my name was in the news a lot then because of that prize my book won and i guess they thought, what better name to attach to our project. they said i’d bring the human aspect to the scientific mission. make people feel like they were in space.
well, this is what it’s like - morale is low, we’re exhausted and miserable and we’re sick of blue grass. i want to sit in a coffee shop and type out my poetry while sunlight filters onto my back through city smoke. i want to go to a movie theater and watch a cheap-cgi action movie. i want to scream.)
Nothing can be understood about the beyond
until all is understood about the here and now.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 29 of contact
(i think i might have an idea.)
Step around the punch bowl,
make small talk.
Keep your eyes on the faces of the crowd.
He’ll arrive any minute now
if he hasn’t;
stay attentive, watch for that old smile.
You haven’t spoken since you were children
and he must have grown,
up and away and apart.
But there was a time you knew each other.
When he speaks to you now
if you’re paying attention, you’ll know.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 31 of contact
(something dropped from the top of a tree today during our exploration. we couldn’t find what dropped it, but it looks like carved wood, and we think there are symbols on it. it might be the first real contact. this might be the beginning.)
Lead with a joke; it’ll put them at ease.
Let them see you smile
unless your teeth are crooked.
Ask them a question,
listen to the answer -
absorb more than you speak
and show you care.
Come in with trumpets blaring
with brags or pleas or speeches of any sort,
and you’ll only scare your chance away.
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 35 of contact
(we saw them. they’re a little like ants, six-legged, but big as dogs and softer and the color of plums. they came out of the ground to look at us, and we were careful to seem friendly.
the scientists have to do all sorts of experiments to try and communicate with them, to test if they’re sapient. but i’m a poet, not a scientist. i really think they know us. it’s the look in their eyes, the way they came out all together, the way they stared at us and then stared at each other and stayed quiet while we spoke. i think we might have found them. i really think - god, i really think it might be possible.)
What is it like? How to describe?
when you see the bouquet of flowers offered to you,
or the wedding ring,
or the simple “yes,” the confirmation
and the smile,
how to describe the joy?
When you open your hand
and another finds yours,
easy, free and loving,
and you feel your heart leaping out
to connect with another -
the hope, oh,
- diary aboard Odysseus 1, day 48 of contact
(it’s true! it’s really real! we’re not alone!!!!!)