The desert faded gold to boney white,
We dug the bunkers, hid ourselves from sight.
The moon laid shadow-cloths with silent hands;
The Men-from-Mars were scouting on the sands.
They came, scritch-scratching with incessant feet,
With roving eyes and mouths agape for meat.
With dirt in breath, we waited underground,
With rifles clutched, not daring any sound.
"That the bugs?" said Parker when they'd gone.
Midge grunted "Yes" and flicked the flashlight on.
Archer twitched--he didn't like to hide,
And Rory's ocean eyes were wild and wide.
I saw our dust-smeared faces lit like skulls,
Like seashells on the shore picked clean by gulls;
Awake for days on days, with sand-glazed throat--
'Last hope for earth,' was what the papers wrote.
The sand rolled on above our battered heads;
Last hope for earth? I hoped only for bed.
And in my sleepless haze, I heard a ringing
Like bells from church where once was love and singing;
Then what all were thinking, we heard the captain say
"Can't fight 'em in the dark, now, anyway."
And so, to fitful, dreaming sleep we fell,
--And as I did, still louder grew the bell.
I woke at zero hours to a fly
Feeling, strangely, like my head was full of sky
Had been dreaming, but I couldn't say
What had passed me on the slumbering way
The captain was awake with a cigar
He said, "It looks they're following a star--
Funny how they're like us some ways too."
All I said was, "Orders, Captain Blue?"
So at his word I crawled out from our hole
And with my gun I went on my patrol.
The crickets called, the sky was ocean-dark,
I felt as Noah in his lonely ark,
Lilting, reeling on a ceaseless sea,
Pairs of night-born beasts my company
And as the restless wind began to moan,
I thought, how strange he sent me out alone.
And all the silent world was cool and dim
While crickets sang their funereal hymn,
So silently, I trudged upon the sand,
And as I gazed upon the wavering land,
I thought my ribs would crack from weight of grief
For every burnt-out shrub, and stem, and leaf
That spread its selfless body to the moon
No matter if it would be wilting soon;
The stars were burning in the lucid sky--
I knew that we, the last, were bound to die--
They turned and trembled, drawing ever near,
And in the predawn air I shed a tear;
My steel to breast, I cursed the Men-from-Mars,
And flung my rebel voice up to the stars
And to the planet burning red above,
I said, You will not take the earth I love.
And then a rustling stole upon my ears,
Seemed confirmation of my alien fears,
Then ever closer burned the lights on high
With Mars' flashing like a wrathful eye;
My heart was hammering--two-and-three-and-four--
Drumming, drumming on my ribcage door.
The lightning forked, the thunder rolled and pealed
And there I thought my life was surely sealed;
The black dome of the sky rent open wide
--A thousand ghostly stirrings at my side!--
And now descending from the gloomy night
Space-dust raining from its trembling height
And with the ringing of that ancient bell,
And thousand voices screaming as from hell,
And thousand mouths all open in their roar
Spreading black, and always spreading more--
It came. At first my mind was dead,
I could not hold its form inside my head,
My boots were rooted in the shallow ground
And to its whirling dark my eyes were bound.
I shuddered as the Thing grew near and near,
And then, my madness swallowed by my fear
Faced by its thousand teeth so sharp and keen,
With shaking hands I raised my M-16.
The Thing swelled forward in Its dark embrace,
And from the sprawling wilderness of space
Came coil on coil of the starless storm
'Till all was full eclipsed by monstrous form.
Its eyes were dark as sorrow-sunken lakes,
Its voice was like a thousand rattlesnakes;
The air was burning through my feeble throat
And by Its mocking laugh my mind was smote.
And while It quivered in demonic glee
Its body came compounding all round me,
Before my terrored eyes Its mouth was spread;
I heard Its voice inside my shattered head,
I am the War God, come to judge your deeds
Your futile movements, swept away as seeds
I am the mouth that eats the worthless men
I am what was, and I shall be again!
My body faint, I steadied well my hand,
With blanked-out mind, but feet sound in the sand.
Though hope be gone, I hoped my aim be true
To send to Mars the sign of faithful few--
A parting shot from falling sons of earth
--That my last breath could be availed of worth.
Born up by earth I faced the monolith,
Summed up my nerve, and said, And I am Smith.
Again its laughter rattled in my head,
But I resolved it'd rattle not my stead.
Go on and shoot, it said in scornful tone,
Its graveyard breath blew deep into my bone;
I pulled the trigger and I heard the roar
Then stars and sand and desert were no more,
And all was black. And, cold as bitter frost,
Entwined within Its tendrils I was lost.
I felt myself be lifted off the ground,
Its lawless wail commingling all around;
Its void-black coils oozed around my spine
My mouth was full of taste of blood and wine.
A flush of light then stole upon my face,
Then came the cold and emptiness of space,
For we were flying high above the world,
And curtains of the black around us furled;
Farther, farther, off into the night
'Til earth was nothing but a distant light,
A fairy's tear. And Mars was shrinking, too--
Two dots, one burning red, the other blue.
Look well, It spat, for Mars, too, once was green,
There waters plashed, and peoples lived serene.
I came; I doomed them for their apathy,
For they are nothing in infinity.
Then like a dream I saw inside my head
The barren Martian lands, all cold and dead,
And heard the phantom laughter, phantom song,
The ghosts of life and love and memory long
Echo on echo among the sterile stone.
Then from its empty heart a new birth grown--
Creeping insects forming, given breath,
The War God's children multiplied from death.
Cruel seemed the stars on their black waves
For now I saw a universe of graves;
I in Its grip remembered not my name,
Lulled and deadened by my crushing shame,
And far away the blue and silent stone
Where hung all hopes, and all we call our own,
Was nothing but a house's distant light,
A window barely gleaming in the night.
You see, the War God spoke (and men despair!)
Your petty loves but fancies on the air.
And I was cold and hollowed clean of hope;
But clinging still to Love as to a rope,
For rose in me a sorrow for my home
For woods, for fields, for lake-shores casting foam,
And from my daze the thought began to form
That houses, be they small, were always warm.
The ocean-water welled within my eyes;
The well-trod dirt came rising up as sighs.
The petals fell and left the heaving fruit,
I found my failing voice a springtime shoot;
I said, It's true--as dust we crawl and die
Perhaps, then, nothing hears us laugh or cry
Perhaps, then, Nothing reigns all death and birth
But, still, somehow!--I looked unto the earth.
You foolish creature! I heard Its voice distort
Is still your sight so narrow and so short?
What can you see, I ask, upon that dot,
For what have you so resolutely fought?
And, shaking, with its coil round my throat,
I said, Then make my mind as like your boat
And sail with me across the earth-blue sky
And I will show you why we fight and die.
So hearing this, It chittered through my brain,
But still we soon were low upon a plain
Of prairie grasses undulating gold
And hillocks rolling fold on rumpled fold,
And grasshoppers ascending from the dust
And, left alone, a car encased in rust;
Then further, where a withered streamlet flowed
A farmhouse on the rutted country road.
The paint was peeling off its sun-bleached door,
(The roof-top sagging as it was before!)
Jungly gardens; trodden, broken grass,
Yellowed walls and clouded window glass
--But Jackson sitting on the crumbling stoop
And Aaron shooting baskets in the hoop
And Rosie with her hazel eyes so wide,
And kitchen odors floating from inside.
This, I said, And this I know as mine.
While breezes swayed the washing on the line,
And in the air Its silence was profound
As we came skimming 'cross the beaten ground;
And all at once I saw again the sands,
The oceans, cities, mothers clasping hands,
And in their bunker underneath the sky
My steadfast brothers, bound, prepared to die.
And there beside the dreadful God of War,
I saw it all as dust and loved it all the more--
A dot of baby blue in star-lush loam
That bears inside a country, city, home.
I said, as to a doll the little child clings
To this I hold, and many other things
Which shall not last, but still, as long they live,
Have to a man some greater joy to give.
You call my planet small! and valor sings
That men have died for many smaller things;
If it be futile, then, at least we stood
And held to what we know is true and good,
And if it's not--if there be God above--
Then surely he must be a god of Love!
For in the shining wilderness of space,
Love is the salt that makes a sacred place.
The War God's scream reechoed through the sky
Its furious wailing dwindling to a cry,
Its body bursting, shedding endless dark
And all Its tendrils peeling off as bark;
Growing smaller, split by thunderous cracks,
Its awful grin all melting off as wax,
'Til Its transfiguration I did see
And all 'twas left was not an It, but he.
With ruddy face and fairy-footed stride
With sword in belt and halberd at his side
In silver cap he stood upon the sand--
The War God, yes, no bigger than my hand!
He said, My brother, you have spoken true
And freed me, when despair was all I knew.
By Love is war conceived in hearts steadfast;
By Love will war be one day stilled at last.
Then in the wind were Men-from-Mars absolved;
Their brutish eyes and insect forms dissolved.
He raised his halberd and he gave salute
--I heard from Mars a sound of distant flute.
So he departed, stalwart in repose,
But first he plucked, from well-loved dust, a rose
For with it to the crimson star to soar,
That Mars may bloom with roses evermore.
So I was left alone upon the sands,
With stardust left upon my shining hands,
And as the yellow sun gave first its gleam
I wondered whether it had been a dream.
But, it was surely real! for in that day,
The Men-from-Mars had melted all away
And all 'twas left were echoes of their moans
And all around, their broken, human bones!
The Earth is saved, I said when I returned,
And told my comrades what I'd seen and learned.
Parker thought me mad, but Captain Blue
Said, "After all, would we have first thought true
The Men-from-Mars? but there the Martians were."
And by these words did he my friends assure.
So on the sand beneath the azure deep,
I closed my eyes, and, smiling, went to sleep.
And sometimes still on moonless, cloudless nights
When to my eyes are spread all heaven's lights,
I look to Mars, and free of pain or fear,
I see it flushing redder every year;
And think of roses, roses of my own
With such a joy could break a heart of stone.
Then to the ground I look with greater love
Than I could give to any star above!