On November 5, 2018, Voyager 2 exited the heliosphere
to enter interstellar space, the region between the stars.
Scientists predict that it will outlast the earth.
Unlike a fertilizing sperm
that penetrates the ovum’s skin,
transmuting into something new,
Voyager bursts from deep within
the bubble of the heliosphere,
borne outward on a solar wind
and enters an environment
impossible to comprehend,
an empty-yet-not-empty space
described as a hard vacuum
inhabited by lonely atoms.
Hydrogen and helium,
neutrinos, dust, and cosmic rays,
make up a plasma thought to be
filled with something called dark matter
shot through with dark energy.
Awaiting each delayed response
from Voyager, the scientists
must race within the probe’s lifespan
to answer questions from their lists,
as forty-year-old instruments
will send them data for at most
a decade more until at last
the batteries give up the ghost.
With scientific mission over,
Voyager will change roles, to be
a hopeful message in a bottle
cast upon a cosmic sea.
Affixed to its exterior,
a gold recording disk includes
in fifty-five Earth languages
the greetings of our multitudes,
our music, classical to pop,
a huge grab-bag of noises filled
with birdsong, crickets, wind, and surf,
the hubbub of our world distilled,
and images of supermarket,
gymnasts, dolphins, the Great Wall,
Jane Goodall with her chimpanzees,
the Golden Gate, the Taj Mahal,
a person with an ice cream cone,
a missile launch, a traffic jam,
plus “How to Get to Planet Earth”
shown by a helpful diagram.
We crammed this data on the disk,
envisioning some far-off day
(if “day” has any meaning there)
an alien spaceship makes its way
between the planets of some system
light years off, its shape and size
in our imaginations not
unlike the Starship Enterprise.
Astride the bridge, the bold commander
guides his ship. His scaly skin
is blue, but nonetheless we find him
recognizable as kin.
An indicator starts to ping.
The Second Mate, with puzzled brow,
looks up from his screen. “Commander!
Spacecraft off the starboard bow.”
A tractor beam pulls in the object.
Crewmen jostle to perceive,
etched upon the gold, two humans,
naked as Adam and his Eve.
The artist drew us trim and nubile,
no fat paunch or sagging breast.
(Even among space aliens,
our pride demands we look our best.)
The aliens decode the data;
yottabyte computers start
their task to parse the difference
between Chuck Berry and Mozart.
Safe, the probe has missed the time
when, swelling to gigantic mass,
our Sun incinerated Earth,
reducing it to swirling gas.
We hope, despite the odds of crossing
paths in such immensity,
that Voyager will bring a tear
of interspecies empathy
at the compulsion which sent forth
an envoy from a vanished race,
its science, politics, and art
long vaporized without a trace
except for this. For now, sail on,
space wanderer, fulfill your fate
as relic of a vanished planet,
The cuckoo’s egg, laid in a foreign nest,
hatches into the goggle-eyed monster
who puts his back to the rightful eggs
and any naked, luckless chicks
and one by one, with dull instinct,
muscles them over the edge.
Consuming all the food his foster parents bring,
he soon swells to fill that nest,
incessantly bawling his two-note song:
Feed me. Feed me. Feed me.
And you, fat boy—who left you here?
You, instinctive parent—feed your foster child.
Three persons stand before a judge. The bride,
a farmer’s daughter, virtue past repair,
now beams up at the man she stands beside,
a piece of hay still clinging to her hair.
The groom, a traveling salesman, finds his knees
atremble as he wonders at the lack
of luck that has him stammering I-take-thee’s
encouraged by a shotgun in his back.
The father of the bride nods as the judge
proclaims them man and wife. The movie ends,
not saying if the new-made spouse will trudge
behind a plow the balance of his days
or flee, resume his city-slicker ways,
and share the tale someday with drunken friends.
What shotguns aimed at us compelled our vows
to lives demanded of us, what force curbed
contrary predilections? As the laws
enacted by our parents were absorbed,
what held them there—some fear of punishment,
a father disappointed in his son,
a daughter shamed if she would not relent—
until ours were the hands that held the gun?
No matter, something harnessed us to places,
jobs, or people, ordering our lives.
Some soon accepted; some kicked at the traces
like peevish mules. With luck, something survives
the dull resentment at the barrel’s shove,
and then one day we find we are in love.