41st Writing Contest • First Place, Poetry
Robin Myers of Washington, Vermont has won the New Millennium Poetry Prize for “Love Poem for Carl Sagan.”
She will receive $1,000, a certificate to document the success, and publication both online and in print.
Love Poem for Carl Sagan
By Robin Myers
The Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to leave the solar system, carried with it a six-by- nine inch gold-anodized aluminum plaque engraved with a message—information on the origin of the spacecraft and on the human form—in the event of its interception by advanced extraterrestrial life. The plaque includes an outline drawing of a nude man and woman. Carl Sagan co-devised the message, and his then-wife, Linda Salzman, made the drawing.
A man and a woman float, not touching, through space.
Space is a word we use for emptiness,
which is to say, somewhere without us.
Engraved onto their metal plate, they float, the man and the woman,
their hands apart, toward whatever kind of void
may absorb them, whatever kind of creature might someday
reach out an appendage, membrane, vacuum,
or other mysterious receptor it might possess
to receive them, or not, in an attempt to learn, or not,
what a woman is, what a man is,
how their calves are shaped, how they fix their fingers
in a gesture of greeting or rest.
The man and the woman, floating in space,
don’t touch each other, lest the unimaginable creature
mistake them for a single organism,
conjoined at the hinge we experience as hands.
The man and the woman who don’t touch
are each a solid outline, placid-faced, blank
by design, their bodies emptied of color, organs, accessories
that would reveal their particularity to Rio de Janeiro, say,
or the Bible Belt, the Congolian forests, the Sahara Desert,
or anywhere else.
The man’s penis is present and flaccid.
The woman’s vagina is neatly triangular, unclefted,
appeasing the censors. There is,
let me be clear, absolutely no touching.
Oh, Carl Sagan, the pressure!,
the harrowing weight of responsibility
wrought into metal, now hurtling chastely
through the infinite virginity of space.
What a task, this immutable 2-D lesson
in everyone’s anatomy: pasteurized
into lines, decorum, and approximate proportions;
no flesh, no function, no friction of any sort,
no moles or scars, no assembly line amputations,
no beards, most definitely no vulvas,
and no involvement, in the sense
that my foot is involved with its sock, its shoe, the throw-rug,
the doctor involved with the thermometer
she tucks into the old man’s armpit,
and so with the man to whom both arm and pit belong.
Above us, a man and a woman,
not touching, now untouchable
forever in memory of us,
float through space,
godly, finally, as we have always wanted,
or at least in the only way
we have ever imagined.
All right, Carl Sagan,
all right, it’s true.
With the sketch of any human form
as the ultimate portrait of what we are and do,
there would be simply no way around mutation:
a girl on a bike turns mythical,
a gentle beast with two-wheeled wings
and edges that change shape in the wind.
What would they make of us, the inconceivable others—
foreign to us in the texture of their flesh, if they have flesh,
in their intimacies with time, if they count time,
in the question of whether they too thirst for salt,
if they thirst at all, if they are a they at all—?
Behold, indeed, the menagerie:
Man and woman holding hands, then letting go.
Man combing daughter’s hair.
Woman passing tongue along woman’s collarbone.
Man seizing man by throat.
Woman and man and man and woman and woman and woman
and man and woman and man and woman huddled against each other
involuntarily on subway.
Woman tearing pork from bone with teeth.
Man cradling pistol.
Girl touching self to sleep in shack with corrugated tin roof.
Boy kissing boy in shadows of lake and waiting
sixty years to speak of it.
Man reaching to woman on memory foam mattress,
which nonetheless forgets them as they struggle
to meet each other at the molten center of what they feel
and vanish into the space between them.
Not long ago, a man and I sat beside a waterfall
with our legs in the current and our shoulders touching.
I know I felt the vast feral body of the river
and the brief warm body of the man and I know
my body was involved with both, and who can say
that we didn’t make, together,
even for a moment,
a new animal?
Robin Myers (New York, 1987) translates Latin American literature and writes poetry. She was a resident writer at the Vermont Studio Center in 2015 and the first-place poetry winner of the Enizagam Contest.
Robin is currently based in Mexico City. You can connect with her on Twitter here.
Love Poem for Carl Sagan © 2015 Robin Myers