A wanderer with borrowed light,
an egg ill-used to smash a stone,
came streaking through the summer night.
The scientists at JPL's
own Near-Earth Object Program
consult accelerometers,
expecting a collision.

Bright Eros crossed the sky alone,
his thirty-four kilometres
sufficient quite to threaten us,
an S-type near-Earth asteroid
approaching, silent, through the void:
we'll scatter, fade, and dissipate
as though we're so much vapour.

I placed this in the anchor's hands,
a goddamned piece of paper,
half epitaph, half warning:
a fragile breaking story
telling how the Earth would end,
in caustic, stricken glory.
Now rigid as though tetanus
caught her in some cruel rictus,
the anchorwoman's pleasant smile
begins to fade in stages.

I must admire her steady voice,
announcing the disaster.
Her hand, although it trembles,
grips the news brief tightly, resolute,
and now none other in the media
so like Cronkite she resembles.
In dulcet tones she first explains
that, though NASA gives us one year,
and though the rock is not yet here,
there will be no Invictus,
no Interstellar hasty flight,
no Armageddon demolition,
no near-miss, no moon colony,
and likely no great rapture
as suggested by theology.

The POTUS holds a conference,
and visibly he ages
while repeating that no mission
can be prepped in time to save us.
"It is not good, it is not right,
to lose all we are in a day.
Because of this, here is our choice:
one final dying shout to send,
the sum of all our art and skill,
the last triumph of human will,
a true encyclopedia
of our whole planet's sense of self.
Though it makes no more difference
in what is now our certain fate,
in thanks for all our thinkers gave us,
their voice now will represent
our loves, our lives, our pains,
upon a probe that will survive
this extinction event."

At JPL an intern yells
and double-checks his data
against all known schemata.
A puzzling tale he tells,
when his boss comes in that morning:
"Unusual behaviour, ma'am;
the rock is moving faster.
With each new image we can capture,
Eros' path arcs even more
onto the course that we have plotted."

"How much time are we allotted;
do we know for sure?
My god; the thought is sickening."

"Boss, I don't think you understand;
the asteroid is quickening,
not in the sense that we die sooner,
but rather, it won't hit at all.
Impossible; it has to be,
but there's the data, plain to see:
if it was just a spacecraft,
I'd assume 'slingshot maneuver,'
and with a gravity assist
either by the moon or
maybe even by the Earth itself,
Eros will most likely shoot
right past us; the sky will not fall.
I called some buddies in Vancouver;
they, too, agree: we will be missed."

SETI turned each massive dish
toward the darkened sky,
confirming that the Final Shout transmitted, five by five.
It was, with great surprise, that they
received a clear reply,
and, for further shock, that it was in unbroken English.

"We're sorry that we scared you,
friends, but we're just passing through.
We thank you for the music, for the science, for the art.
We thank you for your stories, and for showing us your heart.
Space is very quiet, and the trip ahead is long.
Your gift will busy us awhile;
we really like that Bowie song.
Please tell Carlin we all laughed,
and Sagan that he wasn't wrong.
We'll now be on our merry way,
and where we're going, we can't say,
but see you when you get there, too!"

Iron Noder 2015, 04/30