Against the Horizon
The Martians wear spacesuits to the beach,
bubbled helmets, metallic gloves, and tubes
which ring their torso like hardened veins.
The Martians stomp the surf. They wade in
ankle, knee, hip deep as black waves return
broken moonlight and the red eye of Mars.
They beckon me out beyond the breakers
where they tease the undertow, tread water,
and toe the sandbars haunted by stingrays.
I pace the slick shore edged with sea foam,
permit the crash to circle my feet and calves,
but I can’t. My eyes refuse to see their stars.
What Martians Want
We drink tea. The Martians spot a wild turkey on the neighbor’s roof. The turkey trumpets, walks down the shingles, crosses the street, and trots along the walk. The Martians leave game the door open to tail the red-chinned, black feathered creature. When the turkey pauses, they pause and gobble. The next morning the Martians roast fowl all day. Before dawn, the Martians commune with daffodils. In my driveway six Martians kneel before the yellow throats heavy with dew. worship As I ride my bike to work, block after block I see the nodding heads, the green arms, bodies rooted to the soil below windows, around mailboxes, by flowerbeds. I glance at the grey ruffles of sky and worry of late snow. Their large heads could topple. The Martians claim the capitol. Some sit on the steps and watch the sower’s thrust into the pink sunset. Some study the falcon’s nest just below the tip. Every few days, some government scale the massive shaft of Indiana marble, until a helicopter orders them down. I ask a nearby Martian, Is it the shape you admire? Another Martian wags a finger and laughs.
It’s our symbol, and points to a black tattoo
on the small of a Martian’s green back: ♂. The Martian tugs at the leash of a wild turkey,
Come on little Phobos. The two disappear
to a thatch of daffodils bouncing in the wind. home A group of Martians in copper armor begin to dance. They shake spears at the Nebraska state building and chant, Mars vigila!
I can’t stop the Martians from their climb onto the dwarf mammoth
—15,000 years old, three feet tall, and Sicilian. The skeletal cast bucks.
One Martian scales the imperial mammoth by knee, thigh, up and up
until the Martian lodges a foot into the hole of the pelvis and scrambles
onto the tail. Another grabs the hard flares of shoulder, clutches a rib,
puts a toe on the sternum, and clambers into the big bone cage. Look!
I’ve been eaten by a mammoth. The Martian on the tail ascends higher
along the back to slide down the skull’s slope to the tusk. Watch this!
The Martian swings back and forth to release into the air in a triple flip.
I squat near the third Martian. Did you ever see a mammoth, for real?
The Martian smirks and pokes me. How old do you think we are?
I shrug, As old as sandhill cranes?(1) The Platte River?(2) The mammoths?(3)
The Martian tickles my side. My skin prickles in the cool museum air.
Older(4), the Martian says, When the cranes sing, we know what they sing of.
(1)The sandhill crane is nine million years old. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia)
(2)The Platte River in Nebraska is 310 miles long, but young. It’s only 10 thousand years old. Millions of sandhill cranes stop on the Platte River yearly. (Encyclopedia Britannica; The Echo Maker)
(3)Human cave dwellers depicted mammoths in their cave murals in Europe. In North America, human hunters ate them. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
(4)No one knows how old Martians are.
Laura Madeline Wiseman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of three chapbooks, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010), Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has appeared in Margie, Permafrost, and The Spoon River Poetry Review, and prose in Blackbird, Arts & Letters, and 13th Moon. She has received an Academy of American Poets Award and five Pushcart Prize nominations.
Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)
A: Because I believe writing teachers should write in the classroom, I always write alongside my poetry and creative writing students, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, the poem “Historical Study” was first inspired by a field trip I took my students on. We spent one class at Morrill Hall, a science museum on campus. One room in the museum is dedicated to mammoths. I like to touch things. You generally can’t touch things at museums. The inspiration for the poem was imagining what Martians would do if they were there looking at the mammoth skeletons. In my mind, the Martians wouldn’t only touch the skeletons, they would climb on them. They would know them inside and out.
How I take a poem from inspiration to completion changes. In recent months, my process has been to stay on notebook paper through several drafts. I write and rewrite the poem by hand until I think it’s perfect and then type it up. This process can take several weeks. Once typed, I edit some, hide it in a drawer for months and months, take it out again for edits after said time has elapsed, and then do one of three things: 1) place it in the submit pile; 2) put it back in the drawer for further, future edits; 3) abandon it. The poem “Against the Horizon” was a poem I put into the drawer, took out for edits, and returned to the drawer many times.
Q: What did you collect as a child—rocks, insects, stamps?— and why?
A: I didn’t collect anything.
Q: Who’s your favorite Martian?
A: I love all the Martians, aliens, and extraterrestrials. As a kid, I loved ET and Mork from Ork in Mork & Mindy. As a teen, I loved Sigourney Weaver in the Alien trilogy, Total Recall, and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. This last year, my favorite has been Avatar.