You came out of the darkness of the caves
To stand beside me in the light of two suns.
"Who could have done it?" you asked.
I did not answer. The other people
Looked at their data cubes and muttered to themselves.
Here is a planet in a Lagrange orbit around two stars.
It has no life but the most primitive plant-like grasses,
Algae, tiny crustaceans, microscopic organisms.
Yet beyond the glare of its twin suns, in the night of the caves,
There are paintings, glowing mauve and silver, yellow and green.
Phosphorescent waves of . . . abstraction?
Or a literal reflection of some unfathomable reality?
You looked at me. You kicked a little stone on the beach.
You watched the gray ocean.
Yesterday, while you slept,
I crept out into the alien night alone.
I took off my suit. My hidden organelles surfaced,
Drank the poisonous air. My body manufactured
Chemicals that neutralized the toxins. The native protozoans
Were mostly harmless, except for one which,
During a certain phase of its life-cycle,
Could wreak havoc on human DNA.
My organelles co-opted the species, subtly changing it
And myself so that we could live without destroying each other.
I went into the caves that I had marked
The previous day. Exploring, I found a lake
As deep and silent as this sky. Within it, little phosphorescent creatures
Shone like distorted stars. In the next cave, a smaller lake
Had nearly dried out, leaving behind the remains
Of these creatures. I took their glowing corpses
And crushed them in my hands. I painted in a wild fury until dawn.
Then I crept out of the womb of this new earth,
Waded into the high-tide sea
That had already obliterated my footprints
And walked for the two kilometers it took me
To reach base camp, and you.
In our bed you put your arms around me
And sighed in your sleep. In sleep you surrender
All doubts you have of me. I wanted to tell you this:
I am not the same as I was yesterday.
I belong now to this world, as I belong
To each we have explored.
I am at once native and alien.
That is my mystery.
But I didn't say a word.
On the last planet I erected a cairn of stones
In the shape of a sleeping dragon.
On the one before that, I made a sculpture
Out of red and blue clay. On this one I left a picture.
Who can tell why I do this?
If you were to catch me at it, one day,
If you were to see me paint or carve, create something
On the shore of another world --
You would ask this question: Why?
And I would tell you that there are as many reasons
As there are numbers between one and two.
People compose autobiographies. Take the locus of the point
That traces my artwork from planet to planet
And you will have the shape of what I am.
Copyright © 2003 Vandana Singh
Vandana Singh writes science fact, fiction, and fantasy, as well as poetry. Her first published story made it to the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2002 and she has also written an article for Strange Horizons. Born and raised in India, she currently lives in the United States.