Archive for August, 2014

Do You Know the Way to San Mars-se?

©2014 By Bob Litton

I do not recall when we first became inundated with newspaper and magazine articles concerning, or referring to, the possibility of other planets on a scale comparable to Earth’s, and more speculating as to the possibility of intelligent beings populating those planets. Such articles are certainly abundant now.

Of course, ever since the late 19th century much science fiction and fantasy has featured human-like creatures, even articulate strange-looking beings, on other planets. That is where Superman came from and where Flash Gordon ventured to. Mars was the favored home of the “aliens”: note that we often describe them as “aliens” even on their own planets! However, since rapidly accelerating astronomical investigations have completely debunked any notion that Mars supports intelligent life, at least during the near past, the war god’s namesake no longer satisfies science fiction fans. We have had to gaze and fantasize further afield.

We have reached a new plateau in our fantasizing, one that lures us into credulity: The prospecting for life on planets outside our solar system — balls of stellar dust or gases — will take decades, perhaps, for us to determine one way or the other whether we are alone in the universe. Even other solar systems and galaxies are not sufficient to slate our thirst for sister planets: We now hypothesize the existence of “alternate universes”. Seriously.

But back to our galaxy. Thanks to our rocket-mounted instruments and enhanced telescopes here on Earth, the cosmologists claim to have found 750 likely Earth twins; at least that was the number I last saw a month or two ago. Moreover, even before these recent discoveries, scientists frequently argued that, based on statistical probability, with billions or stars in our own universe, many of them with circling tributary planets, the law of averages dictates that Earth for certain has twin planets out there somewhere.

The careers of some astronomers are now concentrated on discovering and analyzing those habitable balls, all of which are multiple light years away from us. One of the purposes of the exploring rocket dubbed “Rosetta” is to serve as a sort of decrypting tool for use by any “Extra Terrestrials (E.T.’s)” on whose doorstep Rosetta eventually plops down exhausted.  Inside the rocket, according to the television show “Cosmos”, is a trove of communication media — everything from glyphs to voice and video recordings employing speakers of dozens of different languages — intended to provide decipherable clues as to who we are and what we do (or did). All of this naturally began as a consequent of our visits to the moon. Astronauts had displaced cowboys as heroes for children.

Early on, I began to wonder why this obsession with the search for other Earths was going forward as urgently as it seems to be proceeding. There were several probable reasons, I learned, none of them exclusive of the others. One, the simplest, was that it was the logical thing to do since our terrestrial frontier had been settled: It was a challenge, like climbing the highest mountain “because it’s there.” Another reason was the Earth’s saturation with population and the concomitant exhaustion of Earth’s resources; famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking said not many moons ago that Mankind will have to find some other place to inhabit soon, because we have no more than a thousand years left to survive here: We were looking for a place where we could retreat as colonists. Still another incentive was to alleviate our fear of being alone; it seemed that the more we learned about the vastness and deathliness of space, the lonelier we felt. Finally, but not least of course, was the scientists’ natural desire to determine, by examining the constituents and development of younger stars and planets, exactly how we originated: the God question.

Since all the “twin Earths” are many light years far, far away, I decided it was time to determine how long it would take me to travel just one light year. Researches informed me that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and that over an Earth year’s time it traverses 5.88 trillion miles. (We’re getting into some heavy arithmetic here, folks, a skill at which I am the least of adepts!) After much hair-pulling and numeral cross-out’s, I calculated the number of seconds in a light year and the number of seconds in my conceivable life span (assuming I live to the next anniversary of my birth moment): 74 years. Then I divided the latter into the former and arrived at a total of 4.685 lifetimes! And that is just to travel one light year, friends!!! How the hell can we expect to transport ourselves to some “Earth twin” that is several light years away unless we resort to a sequence of clones and/or cryonics?

Of course, we can still colonize the moon and possibly Mars; the “Red Planet” is only 34,649,589 miles (4.35 light minutes) away when our variable orbits are nearest one another; but, to me, those are such dreary places. I might as well hang in here and wave goodbye to the fleet of ark-rockets that will tote everybody else off to a “galaxy far, far away”.

Have a safe journey, my fellow Earthlings!


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Two Antique Sonnets and a Joke

©1960 By Bob Litton

PREFACE:  Gentle readers, how about a little back story:

The first poem, “Tannhaüser in the Underworld”, I wrote after listening to an LP album of Richard Wagner’s romantic music drama Tannhaüser. If you are not acquainted with that work, or at least the story, you might get more out of my poem by reading a synopsis of it, but I wouldn’t count on it. Basically, Tannhaüser was a legendary poet-singer who, in Wagner’s version, has a problem coping with his dual nature: the sensual and the spiritual.

The second sonnet, “Dear Christmas Spirit”, is obviously patterned after “letters-to-Santa”; but it’s a serious imitation. I had just been reading much of the British Metaphysicals’poetry (John Donne, etal.) and their style is slightly reflected in my verse here.

As for “Eclogue”, it is simply a small dessert of amusement. I had noticed one day that I had a habit of wondering what or who I might be if I were not me; I suppose the question must have been generated upon my hearing that many people believe in reincarnation. The “borogove” and the “tove” are fantasy creatures I borrowed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Tannhaüser in the Underworld

Behold this change in me, fair Queen of the wood!
How my wild renunciation of Love fades
and flees before the glow of your semblant rood,
how I blush amid the laughter of your maids.
Whether you be lusty Venus, full of guile and fire ─
or fair, chaste Elizabeth, lost in a darker green —
I know not, but know only this scarlet stab of desire
which long night watches and prayers failed to wean.
You’ve led me benighted to this mountain’s cave,
toward what end I hopefully, fearfully surmise,
for it confounds my vision as both boudoir and grave;
so I dare do  naught but expect the lover’s prize.
What omen that me these contrary thoughts enthrall,
while all about —  as if Heaven cared! — stars do fall?

Dear Christmas Spirit

Bring me Faith which can change but not diminish,
though I walk Job’s way beneath a sleeting sky.
Grant me Strength still innocent of a mocking wish
that someone else my life might justify.
Tote also Hope in your burdening, sooty bag,
something I might wear against the damp’s return,
when the wax wick splutters above the chimney’s slag,
and these rimy logs are too frozen to burn.
But leave those behind if they leave not room
for Charity.  Least flesh needs the warmest soul,
knit to another like a child in the womb;
nor does it pause before Life, its sleeves to roll.
If you grant all these to my selfish cheer,
with others I’ll share them throughout next year. 


Quizzed a borogove within the tree:
“What would I be if I were not me?”
A tiny tove by the dial replied,
“You need not be so satisfied!”


Territorial Imperative

©2014 By Bob Litton

Well folks, my wench of a muse is back…sort of. Not sure how long I can count on her; just like all females, her dominant characteristic is moodiness. It is manifesting itself even now in its usual pattern of vigorous starts and fading finishes; she murmurs these delightful ideas in my ear and then leaves me the onerous task of developing them.

There is a slight difference this time, however, in that, instead of abandoning me, she simply fell asleep — without telling me! Now she is blaming her lengthy nap on me, stomping around in my cerebellum like some angry neighbor above trying to signal me that I’m playing my Victrola® too loud. Ain’t that just like a woman — blaming her man for something that she has or has not done?

One of her inspirations concerns space: not the space that interested Flash Gordon, but the areas we consider our own; you know, that yardage around a tree that a dog has peed on to designate his territory. The zoologists call it the “territorial imperative”. We humans are inclined to measure our areas in similar fashion, ever since the farmers started stringing those barbed wire fences through the ranchers’ “open range”.

Well, I have my declared spaces, too. The primary one, of course, is my apartment; even though I don’t own it, I am cautious about whom I allow to enter and how they treat it and my possessions when they are inside. The books and records, I am especially protective of. But I even get angry at heaven when I sense my roof is threatened by a hail storm.

The second space of which I am jealous is my claimed parking area, particularly at the coffee shop I most often frequent and at the senior center where I ingest my weekday lunches. That latter place was where the muse first pestered me yesterday.  As I was rounding the corner about to enter the parking lot, wondering whether my favorite spot would be open for me, she muttered, “Why don’t you write about this, Bob? You know how it jangles your nerves and raises your blood pressure when somebody else’s vehicle is parked there right next to the sidewalk. The vehemence with which you will write it up is bound to arouse similar feelings in your readers: They are all certain to empathize with your anxiety.” As for my apartment, each tenant has his or her own numbered parking space, so there are few problems unless one of my neighbors is having a yard sale.

I also have my favorite tables at the coffee shop and the senior center. The waitresses at the former already know what it is and have the coffee and honey jar in place there shortly after they see my Isuzu Hombre entering the parking lot. However, since the coffee shop has an almost constant influx and outflow of customers, I learned almost from the beginning that I cannot count on that table being open, and it doesn’t really bother me anymore. The senior center is a different story, naturally, because mostly the same people eat there each weekday noon. (There are no waitresses, of course.) We all have our assumed regular spots — so regular, in fact, that it has become somewhat boring: always the same people with the same redundant greetings and other repetitive, personal habits. (I will write about that another time.)

There is one restaurant I enjoy patronizing about once every week or two; not any more often because it is generally expensive. However, they have a healthy “cup” of homemade soup for only $5.95 that changes daily. Cornbread muffins and pecan biscuits come with it. They call it a “cup”, but it is served in what most people would call a bowl. However, what I really most like about the place are the pretty waitresses who welcome me every time I walk in and assume my usual stool at the bar. There is a rapid turnover lately, though, because most of the girls are university students and, so, graduate or enroll, fitting their employments to their university schedule. I recognize only half of them right now: I have to memorize several new names and associated faces. Bummer! My bar stool, however, is always waiting for me.

Even at City Hall, when I attend a council meeting, I always arrive early so I can claim my favorite chair across one aisle from the coffee pot and cookies. From his demeanor, I suspect the mayor believes I consume too much of the taxpayers’ coffee. The brew is quite tasty, as a matter of fact, and I don’t think three cups plus six cookies is too much.

In sum, I guess it all boils down to knowing my direction will lead to my various roosts, everyone else should acknowledge my territory, and lines and searches are abhorrent to me. I have peed on my trees!


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