Two thousand and five

Moments long past
come forth, afresh
as if they arose
incorruptible, from the crypt
oblivious to the passage of time
each year since no more than
a mild nuisance

the bell rings on the dot
clear as dappled dew in the shade
8:30, first period geometry
on top of the hill, seven staircases up
the first day of the rest of my lfie
on an August day, unsure if school
means that summer weather is now
somehow improper

a continent, an ocean, a decade apart
yet no more distant than
the tips of my fingers

Chalk dreams

Written on rough
concrete, begging for
groaning with the stress
of elder trees whose roots
have been growing since
the sidewalk was merely a
distant blueprint

each letter takes form,
the energy drains into
slate-colored tiles

the off-white substance,
once as long as an old man’s
weathered hands
grows smaller and humbler
until there is nothing left

but dreams and aspirations
waiting for the infrequent rainstorm
to wash it all away

Learning Opportunity: teaching death using technology

Opportunity takes a shadow portrait, March 27, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Recently the Opportunity rover on Mars made the news- after more than a decade on the surface, it has developed serious memory problems. As a project engineer said:

“The problems started off fairly benign, but now they’ve become more serious — much like an illness, the symptoms were mild, but now with the progression of time things have become more serious,”

We use spacecraft like Opportunity, Voyagers 1 and 2, and newer projects like Curiosity to teach kids about space, geology, and physics. Even though they are machines, they can teach us about one of the most important human journeys- death.

Space missions have a life expectancy. Probes we send to the Moon, Mars, and beyond the Solar System talk to us. Then over time their components fail, their signal grows weaker, and eventually we lose them. Voyager 2 was launched 13 years before I was born, and is still transmitting faintly from billions of miles away. Opportunity still roams, but its sister rover Spirit got stuck and went offline a few years ago. It lost a sibling, but soldiers on.

Death is a scary idea to everyone, and it’s difficult to bring the subject to youth. But what Opportunity is going through is an impersonal way to talk about a process that will affect their grandparents, parents, and eventually themselves. The probes have less energy. Their joints and arms don’t work the same as they used to. Their memory is spotty and they require more medical attention than before.

And like humans, these machines have life experience and leave a legacy. Opportunity has traveled almost 26 miles in the past decade, making several groundbreaking discoveries about the surface of Mars and its history. When it one day powers down, we will have a familiar debate about what to do with its body- will it stay there for eternity, or will we one day put it in a museum? How can we honor what has passed?

There is wisdom to be gained with the fact that even artificial things have a life cycle, and that machines and humans can have a great deal in common with their journeys. One day, like Voyager, I will stop talking. And how will the world remember me?

One day

Perhaps one day
fog breaks
to bring forth sunbeams
eagerly queueing behind
slate-grey veils
instead of naked judgement
cutting a path
with fire and shattering force

Will, one day in the distant future
when my body has decayed
to feed a cypress tree
overlooking the churning, roiling surf
one day,
will those that find the Earth
as my kind bequeathed,
flaws and all
discover in a meadow
of overpowering green
the last of the rusted rifles
that we once used to commit
societal suicide

One day, will “one day”
cease to be an idea

and become
one day.