(Revised from ďOnce More with Christmas, a collection of Holiday Whimsy for 1989Ē; new version copyright © 2007 by Gerald W. Page)
When I was a kid Iíd stare at the night sky
knowing the ones that winked were stars.
They told me planets never winked.
I live in the city. Itís often hard to see the sky nowadays.
But to see the planets I only have to
turn on my television set.
Iíve seen Neptune,
glowing and alive, computer enhanced,
with rings and moons Buck Rogers never spoke of.
Jupiter receiving asteroids lost now in atmospheric depths;
poor cast-off Pluto; Saturn and its moons.
Once, to read about the planets
you had to go to a bulky magazine
found in the darkest cobwebby corner of a newsstand
where miracles and dreams were piled like junk
one atop the other.
Those thick white pages have turned brown or yellow
with the light of time;
their edges flake like sullied snow.
In todayís libraries books about planets
are kept on honored shelves.
The words are spelled in type thatís black and sharp
on paper white as china plates.
The pictures Ė now mostly photos Ė glow
with laser printed ink.
But those are haunted photos sure enough;
behind them you see ghosts of paintings
by H.V. Brown and Frank R. Paul. Mel Hunter.
You read, you learn,
and still you dream.
But things have changed.
Just look at Mars.
The times we spent on Mars! What times they were.
Galloping on thark-back with John Carter and Tars Tarkas
to rescue Dejah Thoris;
prowling the narrow haunted back streets of its cities
with Northwest Smith;
living among the low-land tribes with Eric John Stark,
seeing Terrans for the savages they are.
At an early age I took a ride,
a Martian odyssey,
in a boat that glided along a broad canal
where I looked into the water and
saw my own reflection.
They tell me there are no canals.
I know that all they can really say is
there are none now.
What if they were whisked away
by some sardonic
Magician of Mars?
Todayís Mars is still a place of wonders:
great arid plains,
their chemical composition fathomed by our machines;
strange formations to intrigue the scientist,
and engage the blaring headlines
of supermarket journals
that know the power of lies
but not of poetry or fiction.
And still we dream.
So Mars has changed? Whatís new?
It always did.
From Burroughs, to Moore, to Hamilton, to Brackett,
to Bradbury and Clarke,
it always kept itself good-humoredly alive
by changing for us.
Itís changed for our computers
and our fly-by cameras.
It will change again when we set foot on it.
Who says a planet doesnít wink?