by Bob King
Part of my brain wasn’t super surprised
by this morning’s TMZ announcement,
NASA & ESA & CNSA confirmed: there’s
an Earth-similar planet with proof-of-life
seven galaxies over —they are interstellar
radio savvy, in the very least. And yeah,
they’ve been in contact for about two years,
& after this latest pandemic the powers
that be finally think we’re ready for the big
news because as a species we obviously
can’t panic more than we already have,
& besides, do you really think we are
really capable of unmucking-things-up
all on our own? That our diplomatic ship
will include 100 non-astronaut humans
is a bit more surprising. Supposedly,
we’re meeting up 42 years after blastoff
at a mid-universe Starbucks. So, despite
my mild propensity toward motion
sickness, I sat down to update my résumé
& to email for recommendation letters,
but now I’m thinking about getting on
the hiring committee instead, as the
impact hazard & cost-benefit analysis
were already decided, & the possibility
of exploiting Mars’ diamond-stuffed soil
& platinum-laced asteroids were deemed
a lower priority than curiosity, for once.
But which 100 will be worthy? The ultimate
Olympics: 7+ billion across 200 nations
enter the arena, & fewer than half
the flags will take the podium, most likely
the powerbrokers with a small entourage.
But what earns powerbroker status?
Nuclear weapons? Mutually assured
destruction an acceptable trade-off for
the ship’s fuel because solar energy
obviously ain’t going to cut it in the void
of deep dark cold spaces inside space?
And what should they take with them?
Music, from Chuck Berry to whale songs,
religious pamphlets, photos & videos,
encyclopedia collection covered in dust
in my attic because none of us had
the heart to put it on the curb with the
wagon wheels & treadworn Goodyears?
What’s the recipe for a galactic time
capsule? As in, Here are all the things that
make earthlings earthlings. Is every
person really a different person? And,
like any revelation of truth, how many
collective warts do we expose, keeping
in mind they may have been listening,
scrolling our internet, & they may
be behind our plethora of cats, cat
videos, & the deification of cats
by cats. As well as the Siri/Alexa
algorithm that suggests what to buy
based on overheard conversations.
Likely, now, more cat toys. No need
to thank me. They also may be further
along in their history, & their societal
stratification might be right-side-up.
On their planet, which skin pigments
are atop the social ladder? Is their
nuanced geo-political history mostly
an encyclopedia of powerful women,
however they socially construct gender?
What do they exchange for currency?
Are they still on shells & wampum?
Did they realize the basics are more
than enough? Coinage & paper &
e-currency just showing off, placing
more value in excess never necessary.
I mean sure, culture is all the things
we don’t need but still have/do/buy,
including elaborately garnished curry
dishes & art, which is the most enduring
symbol of humanity, enough for thousands
of museums & a once upon a time library
in Alexandria. Which paintings should we
send? Do we send what’s derivative
because you know, learning is about
being derivative & to ignore
derivation in favor of divination
is the peak delusion of self-importance.
What kind of lifespan are they talking
about? Have they advanced to, I’ll take
your word for it, Spaceman? Are their
moons more revered because they are
capable of self-shining in darkness?
Their suns diminished because how
special are suns when they only shine
in daylight anyway? Before leaving
this pale blue dot, I’d ask you just three
simple questions: 1.) What have you
created? 2.) Can you tell me about
a significant relationship in your life?
3.) What suffering have you overcome
& how did you do it? Even if we are
like butterflies who flutter for a day
& think it is forever, take all the time
you need to explain your answers.
Help yourself to the communal water
cooler in the corner, should you get
thirsty or need more time to think,
& in the meantime, the cats won’t
keep you company.
Bob King is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark. His recent poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Paddler Press, Aôthen Magazine, The Purposeful Mayonnaise, Spare Parts Literary Magazine, The Viridian Door, Ink Sweat & Tears, Alien Buddha Gets Rejected Anthology, Bullshit Lit, The Red Ogre Review, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Dillydoun Review, Emergence Literary Journal, Narrative Magazine, Muleskinner, & Allium: a Journal of Poetry & Prose. He lives on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife & daughters.