Signs of Life by Deborah L. Davitt

Signs of Life

In a cave under the Cydonia Massif,
(so known for a face
that isn’t there),
an unseen aquifer fills pools
with liquid.

Not water,
at least not exactly—
saturated with chemical salts
and sheltered by the rock
this caustic brew
neither freezes
nor sublimes.

It etches at the stone
leaving the message
of its existence;
it rises as vapor,
to drip back down
from the roof
leaving behind crusts
of ammonium perchlorate,

and along those mounds of salt
on that hidden alkaline shore,
a mat of bacteria rises,
visible as a slick under our lights.

Impossible to tell
how many millennia,
how many thousands of generations
they’ve dwelled here
drawing energy from the breakdown
of the ammonia.

As signs of life go
they hardly seem as impressive
as a missive from another star—

and yet, here they are,
where they’ve always been
alive in a place of death;
here they are,
here they remain.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals, including F&SF and Asimov’s Science Fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge and Flame Tree anthologies. For more about her work, including her novels, short stories, and her poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see www.edda-earth.com.

Editor’s Notes: The complementary image, “A Face On Mars” is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (April 6, 1998): “This image, showing what looks to be a human face (above center) and other features of the Cydonia region on the Martian surface, was produced using data from NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in 1976. Described in a NASA press release as a “rock formation which resembles a human head”, some have since offered the extraordinary explanation that the face is an artificial construct built by a civilization on Mars! However, most scientists have a more conventional view – that this feature is indeed a natural Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on illumination and viewing angle. This month, the Mars Global Surveyor satellite will be in position to take new pictures of this region of controversial Martian features along with areas around the Mars Pathfinder and Viking landing sites.”

Image credit: “A Face On Mars” (The Viking Project, NASA)