Stone Telling

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Postcards from Mars

by C.S.E. Cooney

[Postcard 1: I am here. I am safe. I am starting a garden.]

She saved her whole life for this.
Penny-pinched from couch cracks,
Gutter garbage, bottom of the purse.
I gave my change to beggars;
She kept hers for Mars.

Clear mason jars, blue glass vases, brown
Microbrew beer bottles, heavy with her haul
She wanted to take them all
To Virgin Galactic Gateway —
Proof of her intentions.

"Mom," I said, "let's go to the bank. Get a money order."
"Right! I'm so excited my head is spinning!"
She couldn't stop grinning.

[Postcard 2: You ever see the sunset from Outer Space? I have.]

She threw herself a funeral —
"Like Tom Sawyer only better!"
We wore:
Lily wreaths, roses on our wrists, unseemly boutonnières.
We sang:
Amazing Grace, How Can I Keep from Singing, The Blue Green Hills of Earth
Her voice soared above us like a mothership.

I did not cry.
My eyes were dry.

[Postcard 3: I go out for walks when I can. Try peeing in a space suit sometime. *gigglefit*]

Citizens of Mars are allowed one postcard a month
Part of the package, the plan
One-way ticket to a pilgrim planet
All she could afford.

Citizens of Earth have no stamps for Mars.
I never wrote her back.
Mostly I pretended she was dead.
Like she said.

["We regret to inform…"]

They tell me she went striding
In the uplands of Tharsis
Alone, in her borrowed gadgetry.
There was a storm.
(I did not know Mars had storms.)
And somewhere in the red, red dust —
She disappeared.

Later, they found her suit.
Like a cocoon, outgrown.
Like an empty tomb.

I escape the soundbites, read no headlines,
Stop answering my phone.
In the anchorhold of my solitude
I study her postcards —
Search for clues, secrets, whisperings
Footprints in the red, red dust.

I finish the jam, wash out the jar.
Three pennies, a dime and a quarter so far.

C.S.E. Cooney collects knives and books. Her fiction and poetry can be found in Rich Horton's Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011 Edition, SteamPowered II: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories and the Clockwork Phoenix 3: New Tales of Beauty and Strangeness anthologies, at ApexSubterranean, Strange Horizons, Podcastle, Goblin Fruit, and Mythic Delirium. She was this year's recipient of the Rhysling Award in the Long Poem category. Her mother really does want to go to Mars.

Photography: adapted from Coins, by Kurtis Garbutt.