“Unsent Letter from Philae, Comet 67P” by Rachel J. Bennett

Rachel J. Bennett


In the meantime, the Rosetta orbiter is continuing to look for Philae’s final landing spot, and it will seek out transmissions from the lander every day when the two are within line-of-sight.

To approximate calligraphically the three-hundred million miles
I traveled between your lungs to arrive so far from the sun, one
should sit before an empty jar of ink and imagine a distant white
rectangle like a field of snow not a single hoof or wheel
has impressed. It was not planned but of course I stopped near
a cliff, of course there was less charge than they’d hoped, and
there would never be enough time. If it was cold, I was calibrated
to say it but not feel it. If it was lonely, I did not have a word
to say so. Together we carried twenty-one instruments. Together
we stepped out over the shoulder of South America into layers
of distance, and I wanted to tell them so many things even while
not one of my instruments was a heart. We had no inkling of so
many things: the symmetry of a cat’s stripes, morning glories still
in November, how patiently one of them waited for another to feel
what she felt. I knew what we knew, gravitational ellipses, and then
only what I could touch: frozen dust, methane, carbon dioxide,
ammonia, and somewhere farther than possible a song I couldn’t
yet hear that would make this new home of mine turn to something
akin to light, from where they stood. If it was a success, I wasn’t
the one to succeed. If it was cold … The picture I snapped of you as
we parted looked to some like a rock concert, no pun intended,
as if I were not me at all but one of billions. As if I were surrounded
by everyone who might hold me, were reality different from this.

Poets Respond
November 16, 2014

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Rachel J. Bennett: “The poem responds to the possibly permanent hibernation that comet lander Philae entered into on Comet 67P on Saturday November 15. I find the unfolding of 67P’s exploration extremely moving for a number of reasons, not least of which is the mirror it holds up to us, how much time and effort we pour into our lives for these brief flashes before going dark. Add to this the fact that the Rosetta orbiter still has power and continues to look for the lander with which it traveled for 10 years and you begin to feel some of what I’m feeling. ” (website)

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of a new project in which poets respond to current events. A poem written within the last week about an event that occurred within the last week will appear every Sunday at Rattle.com. Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem, not its editorial position; any opinions expressed are solely those of the poet and do not necessarily reflect those of Rattle’s editors. To read poems from past weeks, visit the Poets Respond page. Interact on our Facebook group. To have a poem considered for next week’s posting, submit it here before midnight Friday PST. 

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