Planetary scientists say that there were rivers
on Mars. Once
in the past, maybe water or silicon
carved its way into the soil, leaving channels.
On every channel last week,
I saw Mars as rivulets
Mars as alluvium
Mars as the dust-choke of the desert calling
I have hidden waters.
There is no such thing as a mundane
river, even on the Earth. Water
winds through the soil, the air;
in it, poisoning
the atmosphere. We imagine gods
that turn it into wine, as if microbes
were not miraculous enough.
Mars with water could be a Mars with
microbes, a Mars with wine.
Or maybe silicon,
but it’s less magical that way.
The rivers on Mars are all gone.
There may be hidden ice
and we know there are scientists on Earth
rooting for those rivers, like Percival Lowell did with canals
(he saw canals on Mars
in his observatory near the Verde River),
but it's still a dust-trap in the present.
There are no canals.
I once walked
twenty miles, lost in the Gila Wilderness
until the sun set and Mars winked
at the snakes in my path,
the narrow canyon.
I tried to leave the river but it trapped me
in the Mars-filled night.
I was at a party, many years ago,
but long after the last river on Mars
I met a famous planetary scientist
who was a drunk, a boisterous flirt
(he sloshed wine out of his glass
and I steered him onto safe topics:
river rafting, hiking,
not how to pronounce
or what he thought of mine.
Now I feel sympathy for Mars, keeping its signs
of water hidden for so long
as scientists stare at its surface
with frank hunger.
(would silicon make them happy?)