Broadcasting the Arecibo Message
Not a believer in intelligent life of the sort
that takes Manhattan, I still watch from the crossing
as a car draws up its window, slowly, makes good the seal
and a kid outside the Sainsburys stands before the automatic doors,
commanding them to open and shut, open and shut, compliant as an orchestra.
How vertiginous to realise for the first time
the power to ask for what he wants, and to get it. Love,
at this distance the messages are garbled. Try running them through
the machine – they come out binary. Try sending Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel.
The instruments are precise and offer no response.
Note the absence, read the research back.
The truth is, the universe is still expanding
The space between us isn’t fixed, is not a road and anyway,
even if by some stroke of luck I’ve sent this in the right direction,
that round trip – fifty thousand years – is time enough for you to vanish.
The point is not to make contact I write in the margin.
but to demonstrate only
that we are capable of it.
This bread is the body of Christ. The wine
uncorked and breathing at the pastor’s hand
is also of Christ. Before the velveted gradine
the sculpted bog-oak lectern stands
and this is the body and the bones
of the boy who drowned in the moiling Dove.
His father carried this relic home.
Look here, at the base – the wood is rough
where he chafed his rope across the grain.
This is the waterline, the sucking river’s tongue,
the memory of being held. Again and again
they say, the fossil dampens, starts to run
and that black water, thick as Derby mud
oozes from the carvings like brackish blood.
Directions towards a scene with a bus
Two characters are seen walking down Kingsway
discussing roleplay [euphoric, self-obsessed].
They crash into pedestrians, step out in front of taxis,
horns blaring. They bounce off each other
as if drunk. A bus waits at the stop, casts
a fat slab of shade over the pavement.
Of course they must stop in the centre of the bridge –
this is a performance.
The backdrop is painted in monochrome.
The river is goose-grey, the sky is shale-grey.
Towards the east it darkens over the river
like a sick child, the Shard piercing it,
extracting blood, or taking a temperature.
They’ve been getting careless, of late. They will
be found out soon. The red bus rounds the corner
and takes the bridge. Cyclists flow past in schools
like fish in chrome and silver. Our two are laughing!
They are in love, distracted, flirting with the railing.
Rain starts, unnoticed. The sky is darker still, the bus
redder against it, the rain heavier now and then
the dénouement (just one step backwards off the kerb).
Is that thunder? The actors hold their poses,
and the audience are hushed, breath held.
From far away, exit music to play them out.
Martha Sprackland grew up on Merseyside and lived in Madrid before taking an MA at Lancaster University. She now lives in London. Twice a winner of the Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award, her work has appeared widely in journals including Poetry Review, LRB, Poetry London, Magma, New Humanist and others, and has been anthologised in the Salt Book of Younger Poets (2011), Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (2012) and Best British Poetry 2014 (2014), amongst other places. She was co-founder and Poetry Editor of Cake literary magazine from 2008, and is now Assistant Poetry Editor at Faber & Faber. In 2014 she received an Eric Gregory Award, and is currently working on a first collection.