The Year Before I Left For Mars

That night the moon’s song was
Cupped by the edge of the plane’s hum.
The beginning soundtrack for our last meeting.
Throughout it all, your breathing slighted the mourning.
We lay, as the loose sand soon hooked
Into the concave of our backs. The ocean waves
Undulating, marking between us, my fast breath.
There is another line here, but I’m not sure
Where to locate it. I could have
Looked at the moon, asked for forgiveness,
But like you, I searched for meteors instead.
You taught me what they look like,
By verbal description, by whispers, and pointing but
Characteristically, I kept missing them.
Because I’m not so good with language,
Nor instructions, and saying goodbye
Where the ground, sea, and sky meet and depart.
Listen: I’m clumsy with my hands and feet.
I also don’t know how to clean a microwave.
And I’m not sure what to say to you anymore.
But that night, before I left, I learned on my own,
Without telling you: This is how you find meteors.
You have to take in the entire dark sky, (like viewing a landscape painting or
A movie screen), but let the frame blanket over our bodies until nothing is left.
Watch carefully, because meteors
Disappear in a glimpse, into the slender cock of your neck,
In my short eyelash flutter.
One by one, then another.
By the end, we are greedy.
We stop counting
As we clasp our hands,
Gulp in the disappearing us, then
Suffocated, strayed.


Copyright © 2021 by Margaret Rhee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 19, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I read a magazine article once that featured everyday individuals who signed up to move to Mars in a future time. What was extraordinary was that in order to do so, these people signed up knowing they’d leave, and never come back to earth. I thought a lot about that: choice, loved ones, risk, travel, opportunity, and what’s lost in the space between decision and flight? Since I also write science fiction poetry, it felt natural to draw from this idea of Mars, since the speculative can shed new light on human experience and emotion. The setting of the poem however was inspired from an actual meteor lesson I received on Venice Beach, California one summer evening.”
— Margaret Rhee