Curiosity No Longer Sings Happy Birthday to Itself
“’In a nutshell, there is no scientific gain from the rover playing music or singing ‘Happy Birthday’ on Mars,’ [NASA technologist Florence Tan] said. In the battle between song and science, science always wins.”
One year, in August, out in space,
you slowed your point oh nine mile pace,
and tuned yourself to C.
You answered the R.S.V.P.
programmed back on Earth,
played “Happy Birthday” wordlessly
to celebrate your birth.
So many million miles away
you hummed those sixteen bars,
wishing yourself a happy day
all alone on Mars.
And we all cried, “Oh, do not cry,
how lonely you must be,”
a party of one to satisfy
Yes, of course we were aware
the loneliness was ours,
as we imagined being there,
all alone on Mars.
But still I pitied the ordeal
your code was going through—
not to think that you can feel
would mean I feel less too.
So sing again your silly song,
your birthday gift to me,
and I will cry and sing along,
Let’s say that you’re partial to hoods,
and you’re off to bring Grandma the goods—
those teeth are a hint,
be ready to sprint,
Verizon’s one bar in these woods.
Let’s say that you have a new dress,
and your boyfriend is anyone’s guess:
go enjoy being posh
as long as your squash
has a clock and a good GPS.
It’s not smart when you’re home all alone—
though an Apple is fine for a phone—
to take fruit that looks sweet
from a crone that you meet
while a battle is on for the throne.
Let’s say that she’s stuck in a castle
in a spell that is really quite facile.
Why fight the unseen—
can you kiss through a screen?
Use Skype and avoid all the hassle.
“Are you sick of being seen as a cutie,
though you’ve brains and a strong sense of duty?
While my looks tend to hinder
my chances on Tinder,
swipe right to see my inner Beauty.”
Soy milk seeking coffee mate:
Almond substitutes are great,
so are coconut or rice—
hemp would certainly suffice.
Fridge is tiny, bills are high,
only want one “milk” to buy—
Half-and-half need not apply.
Only when you start looking for a twenty-inch pan
with a high rim
to be used as the bottom of a chicken feeder
do you realize how many
round things there are in the world.
You rule out all but the pan-like,
but many are too flat, or too flimsy,
until you realize
you had many more requirements
than you originally thought.
You start to look everywhere,
stopping at tag sales,
into people’s back yards.
Things mock you—
trash can lids, bird baths.
Squares become invisible.
Shapes of all sizes disappear
as everything is judged
only in how it differs from
the pan you want.
It might seem a shame
to lose all that good stuff—
birds, trees, sky—
but it also simplifies things,
narrows it down,
this search for only one thing
that can never quite be found.
No busy signal from his cell,
Instead I’m on “call waiting.”
I can’t hang up the phone and so
I’m left anticipating
Whether when he sees my name
He’ll want to take the call,
And if he doesn’t, am I on
His contact list at all?
Or am I still a nameless number
In this three-way hell,
Will he know it’s me or think
“That doesn’t ring a bell”?
And who is on the other line
He might prefer to me:
His mother, sister, college friend,
That girl on speed dial 3?
But if I choose to end it then
“missed call” gives me away.
No anonymity will hide
The things I didn’t say.
Times have changed, these days there are
No hang-ups any more;
I’m strong enough, so go ahead:
Accept or else Ignore.
The thrumming in my head
Becomes a piercing din;
I’ve kicked him out of bed—
Can I unprick my skin?
I should stop kissing you goodbye—
it’s not a sign of love,
but fear that while I’m out you’ll die,
and then I think, what of?
I worry most about disease—
each week a different kind.
Last night you couldn’t find your keys—
Alzheimer’s comes to mind.
“That can’t kick in,” you kindly say,
“in the hours you’ll be gone.
So go, have fun, enjoy the day,
I plan to mow the lawn.”
Mowing? Images fill my head—
a stroke, a heart attack.
You groan, “I’m fine, and if I’m dead,
no need to hurry back.”
“Okay, I’m leaving, back at four.”
“I love you,” you reply.
How sweet, I think, hand on the door,
I should kiss you goodbye.
My son puts on his winter coat—the hood
just covering his blond disheveled hair,
with coat and coatsleeves flying out behind him—
and races through the house, the yard, transformed:
the superhero of this close domain.
He growls and roars, brandishes little fists
in a victory stance above the dinner table.
He builds an airplane out of kitchen chairs,
inviting me to fly away with him
and see the world, and still believes me when
I whisper to him, “Broccoli makes you go higher.”
“Pan” and “Busy Signal” were first published, respectively, in the journals Dogwood and Light Quarterly. “Tattoo Regret” appears in Goldberg’s collection Snowman’s Code (University of Evansville Press, 2016), and “Superhero” in her book Flume Ride (David Robert Books, 2006).
Midge Goldberg is the recipient of the 2016 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, as well as the 2015 Richard Wilbur Poetry Award for her book Snowman’s Code, named the 2016 New Hampshire Literary Awards Reader’s Choice for Outstanding Book of Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Measure, Light, and Appalachia, and on Garrison Keillor’s A Writer’s Almanac. Her other books are the poetry collection Flume Ride and the children’s book My Best Ever Grandpa. She is a longtime member of the Powow River Poets and has an M.F.A. from the University of New Hampshire. She lives in Chester, New Hampshire, with her family, two cats, and an ever-changing number of chickens.