Graves on Miranda

Verona Rupes is
a cliff over twice the height
of Everest on Earth—
there’s rock here, but ice, too,
primordial, left over
from the accretion disc
of the entire solar system,
but it’s grainy, gritty,
littered with black carbon nodules—
ejecta spray from meteors,
the burnt remains
of the ghostly Uranian rings.

When you climb here,
there are no resting places,
no Sherpa camps.
You sleep cradled by ropes,
under the jade gaze
of a cold gas giant,
an endless fall beneath your feet

Even in dream-light gravity
there are no shortcuts to the top
human hands and feet
still must find ledges to grip
sweat still stings your eyes
inside your helmet
thought there’s little effort,
little force needed
to bound from boulder to seam.

But if you slip, the final impact
might not be what kills you—
the slide of your body along the rock,
the friction tearing up your suit,
the hose that snaps, unable to endure
both the chill of the icy surface
and the shock of your descent.

There are as many dead bodies
frozen at the foot of this scarp
as there are graves on Everest,
sacrifices to the spirit of ambition;
and like the primordial ice,
like the ejecta spray,
if you die here,
you’ll be immortalized,
preserved for all the rest of time.

—Deborah L. Davitt