Against a cantaloupe sky
rise sculptures in rust:
austere pillars,
ochre postpile columns of basalt,
impossible carved arches, brick-red
and stark, cliffs
the exact shade of sequoia bark
and eighty times as tall.

Their shadows
fall dark and forbidding
across a landscape rock-littered
like a grim battlefield,
soaked for centuries
in dried blood.

Kneeling, I touch
the copper-colored dust,
sifting it between my fingers.
It feels soft and fine,
like cinnamon.

Innocent enough
until the air stirs
suddenly, and I watch,
helpless and lost
as the wind whirls the dust up
all around me in the first
furious swirls
of a Martian sirocco,
higher and faster, obscuring
ground and rocks and sun
until nothing
except myself
and the color orange.

Between storms
the stillness hangs
like waiting.
Sometimes I find myself
holding my breath
in sympathy.

© Karawynn Long, 1991
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background adapted from Mars Pathfinder mission photos, 1997
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