Laura Sobbott Ross is a widely published award-winning poet whose work has appeared in more than 100 literary journals. In addition to four Pushcart Prize nominations, she was a finalist for the Art & Letters Poetry Prize and won the Southern Humanities Auburn Witness Poetry Prize. She has published two chapbooks, A Tiny Hunger and My Mississippi, and a third book, The Graffiti of Pompeii, is scheduled for publication this year.
Woman Wants to Have the First Baby Born on Mars
Mars One Project – 2026
He’d first seen them from his cradle, before the dawn arrival of the sterile taskmasters to acquire blood and data. Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars in the round portal, thick as an airplane window in the wall of his nursery. He’d watched them orbiting together—distant twin lights above a landscape the color of rust. Lying there beneath a baby quilt top-stitched in stars, he’d thought he must be the loneliest boy in the universe.
Here on Mars, layers were imperative. Without an atmosphere, the sun, though small and dim, could sear to the marrow of bone, so hugs and kisses were stiffly buffered in Kevlar. Even his baby teeth, once they had fallen out, were catalogued and scanned for radiation. Although his mother had versed him in fairy tales and lullabies, he had no point of reference for princesses or wolves or magic beanstalks. He did keep in good touch with his cousins back on Earth, the twenty-two minute delay in their conversations, leaving him time enough to unpuzzle an algorithm, or tear open a prepackaged stack of pancakes and spin them with small bites as they lofted through the thin gravity; maple syrup, a mid-air squiggle from a perforated corner.
From what he could see in the background of the wide video monitors, it seemed to him that his cousins lived in a vertigo paradise, lush with thick air where fragrances, colors, and sounds hung rainbowy and dimensional. Some kind of sensory diorama, he theorized, distracted with the teeming aspect of it, the crush of breathing, emoting populations. Even simple trees with songbirds were beyond his comprehension, although there was an agricultural cubicle in their Martian compound where tomatoes and romaine lettuce grew in a grid beneath tubes of ultra- violet light. But peacocks and praying mantises and dolphins…who could imagine such things!
What he wanted to experience most of all was the ocean, to be naked and immersed in its volumetric thrust and foam, where he might find himself equalized at last in its wild salt, and in the symbiotic bond between current and shore.
He’d known waves, of course, in the dust storms that ravaged with red blinding winds for months at a time, leaving him to his books and video components of virtual reality. The days, a terracotta haze outside the sky dome, while he toured the splendors of the Earth like a ghost wearing goggles: Versailles, Machu Picchu, The Great Wall of China, Walt Disney World.
When the dust storms settled, the robots were commissioned by their programmers to trek into the newly shifted dunes at the base of the compound and to retrieve any large, impeding stones or space glass. Once, during a span of boredom extenuated by the weather, the robots had been keyed to do the tango while blasting La Cumparsita. The Milky Way, a thick ribbon of glitter above the food preparation vestibule where they’d danced; his mother’s face, glistening in the dusk with exertion and delight.
His father had been a sperm donor she’d told him once. A geophysicist gleaned down to an asteroid shaped cell looking to upload its transport of premium DNA.
Did he mention that there were always prerecorded interviews to be conducted with the school children of Earth? After all, he was something of a celebrity there. A soft-eyed anomaly in a space mask kicking a soccer ball into oblivion. What do you like to do for fun, they would ask invariably, taking notes for their own personal projects to be entered in elementary science fairs.
I cultivate frog eggs, he’d tell them, thinking of the lab and its beakers floating with masses of what looked like small, jellied eyes. He kept a log, waiting to record the moment when adaptation would occur—for gills and tails to startle the stillness like wings. Only once did the specimen actually morph from egg cell to tadpole to toad. A dull-eyed Buddha (yes, he’d studied religion) that he kept in a bowl by his bed with a bit of Martian gravel, lettuce, and protein rendered from a petri dish. He was fully aware that when death came—a rigid and proven hypothesis, they’d pin him wide, take out his innards and swab the cells into an exposition of glass slides. Field notes penciled in the margins of data binders punctuated with diagrams of leaping, and asterisks scattered like stars.