For the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17, December, 2012
Soon after brutal apes were graced
With cunning minds and nimble hands
That grasped both word and implement,
They sought more fruitful far-off lands.
Devising hieroglyph and rune,
They logged the heavens, wielding tomes
To guide their craft across the seas,
Subduing wilds to make new homes.
Withdrawing wisdom from its sheath,
They felled old plagues, then lit the waste
With bolt and arc in copper veins,
Contagion and the dark erased.
Then clad in fragile armor, we
Assailed the sky, defying void
Between the Earth and distant Moon;
Man’s highest boundary destroyed.
Our race's ardor tried and spent,
With thinning purse and swollen fame
We shunted wealth to mend the poor,
Make well the old, a carnal aim.
We climbed down from our highest mount,
Resigned the goal, shook off its dust,
Surrendered gear as monuments,
Consigning all to moth and rust.
Then christening metallic thralls
In zeal for life and fearing woe,
We coasted shallows in their shade;
Paid absent heed; remained below.
But then a ghost rose into view
Discerned through artifice of glass;
Bleak omen of a monolith,
Far portent of some deadly mass.
With former prowess at its ebb,
We forged new arms to meet the bane
And flung our shafts against the foe,
Contesting blood and home in vain,
For they who measure signs foretold
The writ of doom would not be stayed.
Our scruples fled; we furled the law
And sundered oaths; all cried, some prayed.
The common clung to brood and creed,
While kings fled to a deep retreat;
Then stony fist turned flaming spear
And stabbed the Earth with melting heat.
When mortal blow had landed home
To score the ground and cast its plume,
Then every vale was made a pyre
Of leaden ash and choking fume.
Bereft of drink, of grain, of kine,
Stark hunger reigned past any ban.
Each set his face against those dear,
Ate brother's flesh, devoured clan.
Dim sunlight shone through fatal clouds
On pillars dashed, on fallen throne,
On mounds of corpses bound in earth,
Souls humbled to mere drifts of bone.
If strangers from a far-flung sphere
Should trace and track our trail of wit,
Then sailing to our furthest shore
Would come to find upon it writ
Small furrows dug by dust-shod feet,
Bold sigils of an Earth-ward land,
A fleet exalting ancient gods,
Its iron vessels now unmanned.
If they could solve a distant tongue,
On metal remnant they would find
Our sentiment made epitaph:
"We came in peace for all mankind."
Sole witness now, this sterile orb,
Proceeding 'round through ageless span-
Grim herald of the tomb below,
A stone to mark the grave of Man.
Scott Hendrik Van Hoeven is a computer systems coordinator for Northwest Independent School District. He lives in Saginaw, Texas with his beautiful wife and two sons.