Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: mars

Stopping by Tharsis on a Dusty Evening

When all my days have turned to rust,
The poison wind begins to gust,
And strange colors purely Martian
Fill up the sky with choking dust.

When the air begins to thicken
Like a scene from science fiction
I lose sight of Tharsis Montes,
And embrace this redding vision.

Down in Noctis Labyrinthus,
Cut off, alone, I find solace.
Within the planet’s ancient scar,
I marvel as the sky turns ferrous.

The lovely dust darkens the stars
Then blocks the Earth that once was ours.
And now there is nowhere but Mars.
And now there is nowhere but Mars.

Not long ago, I had my students write poems using Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as a model. I decided to have a go at it too. I’ve been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.

Nightfall Beyond the Glass

Enfolding dust swirls silent
gray and separate,
the magnificent desolation
of night casting in unnoticed.

Beyond the glass,
a shadowless plain, illusion of silence,
the killing emptiness of absence,
countless broken stones,
the bones of unformed worlds.

Tiny pockmarks reveal bites,
the wind’s invisible stone teeth,
nibbling us all down to nothing
beneath the bad moons rising.

Who looks to these for love songs?

That dread moon waxing in the east?
This moon of fear rising again in the west?

Mars has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. Fear and Dread, the dogs of war. They’re little more than asteroids captured by the Martian gravity. Due to their diminutive size, they appear only as bright stars from the surface. Phobos moves so fast and orbits so close to the planet, it rises in the west and sets in the east. Because of its orbital speed, it rises and sets several times each night.

“Magnificent desolation” is the phrase Buzz Aldrin used to describe the surface of the moon.


This is the videopoem I made for “drylung” by Clayton Michaels. It comes from his chapbook, Watermark, winner of the 2010 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest.

About a month ago, Dave Bonta and Beth Adams, co-managing editors at qarrtsiluni asked if I would be interested in doing a video for one of the poems from Watermark. They sent the manuscript, which proved to be an embarrassment of riches. I read it a few times, went back and forth with a few and settled on “drylung.”

What will the world “look like when all the water leaves?” Last Summer we were on the tail end of a two-and-a-half year drought here in central Texas. The lakes were drying up. The aquifers were emptying. Austin and San Antonio were imposing harsh water use restrictions and through all those 105°F days, there was the underlying sense that this was the future. Those in the know—politicians and policymakers, the few who try to think long term—claim that water will be the issue in Texas in the 21st century.

Parts of Lake Travis that hadn’t seen the sun in decades were exposed, and docks and boats were marooned hundreds of yards inland. Everything shriveled as the ground compacted and cracked so slowly it could almost seem normal at times.

In October, the rains came and the drought ended. We had one of the wettest, coldest winters in a long time. Memory of such things is short and so water, or the lack thereof, was soon forgotten.

What will the world “look like when all the water leaves?” Mars.

Ever since I was a kid in the ’70s in Washington, DC where the Air & Space Museum was my favorite place, Mars has fascinated me. I can scroll endlessly through the images beamed back by NASA’s rovers. Mars is beautiful and stark. It is the subject of a few of my poems, one published earlier this year at qarrtsiluni and another here at Coyote Mercury. I’m even writing a novel (slowly, too slowly) set on Mars, that world from which all the water really has left (actually, it’s possibly still there, trapped below the surface in a layer of permafrost, but I digress).

Texas and Mars collided in “drylung.” In my mind, it sounded like prophecy such as one might hear between channels on a weather radio. This summer had been (it isn’t now) unusually mild. Mid-90s and regular rain. It was easy to forget the previous year. “drylung” forced memory and took me to Mars where ancient water likely flowed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to make this video. Thanks to Beth and Dave for inviting me to do this and for their suggestions on improving the final edit. Thanks to Clayton for his wonderful poem and reading and for allowing me to interpret his work like this.

Watermark will be published August 30th. You’ll be able to read it and listen to Clayton read his poems at, and you can order it from Phoenicia Publishing. I’ve got a few of Phoenicia’s books, and they’re tip-top all the way and speaking as someone who’s had the privilege of reading Watermark, I recommend buying a copy. It’s an incredibly good read, the kind that makes me want to be a better writer.

Visions of a Healthy Planet

My poem “Visions of a Healthy Planet” is up at qarrtsiluni as part of the currently unfolding “Health” issue. You can even listen to me read it. Go. Check it out and be sure to look around while you’re there since there’s a lot of great writing to be found.

James Dream of the Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.

According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.

I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?

Did they write the song just for me?

Have a listen.

Pomegranate Surface Features

If I could study these spheres long enough
to see canals as Schiaparelli saw,
or invent for them tragic civilizations
like those dying while Lowell watched,

these pomegranates might reveal
the wildest tricks of the light.

I’d stake my rep on pomegranate people
living out tiny desperate lives,
their doomed world sure to be destroyed
for the jeweled seeds inside.

This is for Read Write Poem’s Image Prompt (#103), a picture of two pomegranates. Inspired as much, I think by my recent reading of Mars: The Lure of the Red Planet by William Sheehan and Stephen James O’Meara, a fascinating history of our understanding of Mars.

Where there were pomegranates, I saw planets. I suppose we’re all a bit like Schiaparelli and Lowell in that we often see what we want to see.

For those who may not know, Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) was the Italian astronomer who first reported seeing “canali” on Mars. It was a trick of the light and the human eye as well as, possibly, his colorblindness, but the name “canali,” which in Italian means “channel” was mistranslated to “canal” in English. American astronomer Percival Lowell (1855-1916) took canal to mean artifical channel and reasoned that Mars was populated by a dying civilization building canals across the surface to irrigate the deserts with what little water remained on their doomed planet.

Read what others saw in those two pomegranates here.

Update: Don’t miss Angie Werren’s “planet pomegranate” at woman, ask the question. She too saw Mars in those fruits and wrote an amazing poem.

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