Philae

by Mario Petrucci

 
The robot probe that landed on comet 67P/C-G
(12th November 2014)
 
 
I
 
it's something like
launching a London pea
from a military shooter
into stratosphere
to a chosen New York apartment
to lance the half-open window
clear the curtains &
impale itself
on the needle's point just fallen
from a seamstress's lap
 
it's like
something like that
 
 
II
 
how does it seem?
 
a black lion
with mane aberrant
exaggerant
one paw lifted horse-like
at a whip-cracking onrush
of space
 
or a hip
grey with geological age
clawed from shale under
melted glacier
 
or a primitive carving hewn
from blackness
stale with soot consumed to
a stumpen head
neck
skewed shoulders - all
that grain of space-wood
showing
 
 
III
 
it's like Rosetta
 
a scrunched-up slab
of stain & ice
finding first language
 
it's blackened papyrus
wrapping a log to take
this hieroglyph of human
 
expansion - the child-like
scrawl of an inkless biro
of a screw-tipped leg
 
 
IV
 
this comet
will grow a tail
for even ice and soot
especially soot with ice
evolve
 
this comet
will become animal
a silent roar of light
smeared through the aether
 
or is it a dog
a backwards god
black on its gravitational leash?
 
this comet
will erupt with jets
as it nears the sun
shed dust and vapour
incandesce
sprung
to life again as were we
in each futility of warmth
 
this comet
is a cipher to remind us
we are forever
centred on stars
 
this comet
a scale of the fish
that almost got away
 
something to land on
a splinter of moon
with no dark side
 
a strong arm
handlessly bent
to bulge a bicep of ice
to win us over
to woo us
 
or hide a fist
 
this comet
belongs to Russia
belongs to America
belongs to Europa
belonging to everybody
 
to nobody
 
comet
met by Philae :
first bird ever to fly over you
that silver fish to tickle you
in the telescope
 
unapproachable    approachable
 
you comet - a child
materially named before you were born
as though an island yet to be made by the emptiness's
bubbling up & over of intense
cold
 
or an island uncertain on its map
so completely failing to exist
it brings multiple sightings
 
or two islands fused in an ocean
of nothing
through a neck of something
in rising waters
 
or a relocation
of our upward gaze
of our downward nature
in a swelling ocean of darkness
 
this comet
soft Gaia flung herself out to
through her half-bald apes - that
metal tip on an invisible tentacle
of organic imagination
 
we send you Philae
our shimmering dismembering male god of sun
our gleaning cohering goddess of grains
Ra Ra sun
Ma Ma moon
aggregating self from nothing
erupting into nothing
 
we send you this metallic tongue
almost as cold as you are to
lick your stub of pencil
taste your chemicals
 
we send you
our sperm of instruments
our complex speck of pollen
to touch down on your lone stamen
 
Philae
that calls to us in blips & squeaks
calling us back - calling itself
Philae
 
or something like
love


The story behind the poem:  Before reincarnating [in this lifetime] as a poet and educator, I was a full-blown physicist.  So, scientific projects like the Rosetta/Philae mission resonate profoundly with me and my writing.  Please bear in mind, when you first read [or hear] the Philae poem, that it's a modern work - it doesn't consist of easy-going romantic statements!  It looks, instead, for depth, richness, a powerfully layered complexity, and a touch of strangeness that isn't out of place in deep space.  The poem paints again, with words, the astonishing images that we've seen from the mission; but it also strives to raise many of the subtle human and cosmic meanings associated with this historic undertaking.  The text refers, for instance, to the famous Rosetta Stone, and to the original 'Philae' - the island[s] and ancient temples submerged by the Aswan Dam.  Perhaps the poem is best summed up, though, by the response it drew from the outreach team at the European Space Agency: "The images in this poem are so strong and yet so precise... and while it transpires that the poet was deeply touched by the technical achievement of the comet landing, there is so much in the poem about us as humans, our aspirations, our weaknesses, our dreams."  If Philae is that plucky little gnat on the back of its huge grey elephant, then this poem - in its own way - is a tiny voyager riding the vast and equally mysterious limits of language. 

Biography:Mario Petrucci is an ecologist, physicist and poet whose works have included Tales from the Bridge, the world's largest poetry soundscape, installed on the Millennium Bridge as a centrepiece of the Cultural Olympiad. He was the first ever poet in residence with BBC Radio 3 and at the Imperial War Museum, and has worked with such organisations as The Royal Society, the Poetry Society and the Royal Literary Fund. Heavy Water: a poem for Chernobyl (Enitharmon, 2004) secured the prestigious Arvon/ Daily Telegraph Prize.  www.mariopetrucci.com

 Listen to Mario Petrucci read Philae here