[AU by Terry McGarry]

His great-great-grandfather had talked to gold,
alone so long they said he had gone mad,
muttering to California's hills,
washing sand and gravel from his beauties
with hands that had once bathed the son he'd lost
when, jealous of his trinkets, she'd gone East.
"I call these lovelies and they come to me,"
he told the dancehall girls when he noticed them;
"I put my hands on veins and feel the pulse
of mountains." He died a pauper; they say
he took his beauties with him to his grave,
so loath to put them in the hands of strangers
he chose to go right back into the earth
to spend eternity in their cold arms.

His grandfather said gold's a noble metal,
X-raying the ore body like a human's,
heap-leaching gold from rocks with cyanide,
respecting gold's reluctance to combine
with other things. He'd say, "To each his poison,"
his voice a whiskey rasp, raising his glass;
"you gotta hand it to an ore that only
drinks what would kill me," and one day did.

Now, summoned seven light-years from his home
by frustrated surveyors whose report
had mentioned sentience, he is spread flat,
listening to the rush of molten gold
like music in the veins of this new world,
deciphering its geologic tongue
with ears, with fingertips, because it shrank
from his equipment's crude magnetic field--
because he does not want to frighten it.
He feels it slither under him, around;
it circles like a mammal sniffing, like
a blind man tracing contours of a face,
a dance of heat and pressure, of direction:
he will learn. Already he has etched
a simple pattern on the stone beside him.
In his mind he sees the gold of bees,
imagines gilded whales in rocky depths,
spins down an aurum helix to his core.


Copyright © 1992 Terry McGarry
First appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, October 1992.
Honorable mention, 1992 Rhysling Award (Science Fiction Poetry Association).



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