“Listening to Mars,” by Sally Ashton

Sally Ashton


ear pressed to my laptop’s
small speaker that replays a recording
captured by seismometer, a bass tone
drones some 140 million miles from Earth,
kabillion being another useful term
because “Martian wind” seems a kabillion
million miles from anything I know, gusting
unseen across the parched red surface only
accidentally captured by the InSight lander’s
equipment instead tuned to intercept signals
from Mars’s deep interior, a seismic pulse
that will say something about the planet’s
inner space, the kind of low frequency waves
whales and elephants can hear, though
elephants hear through their feet,
sound traveling through their giant
toenails to the ear via bone
while whales’ tiny ears sift the deep
for sound vibrations the way their massive
mouths sift volumes of water for also-invisible
krill, at the same time we’re messing them
up with underwater sonar blasts like
we’ve messed up our own atmosphere
with radio waves so that the only peaceful
place free of frequency noise
where we might hear from the universe
is on the far side of the moon—
once called “dark” because we’d never seen it—
where China just landed a mooncraft to listen
to what might come from that great stillness,
such as the repeating fast radio blasts
from some distant galaxy detected by Canadian
astronomers who describe the bursts as the
“wah wah wah wah” of a sad trombone,
and it is this immensity, the kabillioness
of it all that keeps me sitting here
on the dark side of everything, motionless
next to my laptop, a type of spacecraft,
hitting replay, straining to hear an alien wind
singing its deep melody through space.

from Poets Respond
January 15, 2019


Sally Ashton: “January, better known as winter break for teachers, traditionally serves as a quieter month for me, a chance to read, write, and contemplate the coming year. I was first struck when my daughter posted a haunting video playing the just-captured first time ever sound of Martian wind. Then on January 3, a Chinese lander touched down on the far side of the moon, followed this week by the report of 13 new intergalactic fast radio bursts discovered, all of which, when you pause to consider, is pretty mind-boggling and serves to drown out the white noise of this week’s political frenzies. At least for a few minutes.” (web)

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