After class, the old pilot loosened up over a couple beers
and told us the truth about the legends in the books.
Stories boiled from him in disordered fragments
we could hardly begin to understand.
He told us of hunting down the lanes of stars in times
and out of timelines that have still not been charted.
He talked of friends and enemies who switched sides
or pretended to, all gone in the fires of a long lost sun.
He told about the wiles of a legend who evaded justice for eons,
only to get lost on the far side of forever.
And once, he whispered of a love with bottomless thoughts
and a knack for alien vectors, for all the good it did her.
His eyes were wild then and he slammed back two shots – boom! boom!
Pounding the little glasses down with sounds like gunfire
and grinning at our startlement.
And just for a moment he looked like he did in the old newsvids,
at the first trial — the sparkly-eyed, cynical hero,
greatest of the demi-gods who conquered the hypervoid
in the days when everyone said it was insane even to try.
“The math gets ugly out there!” he shouted.
“Not just anyone can navigate between chaos and tomorrow
with the eyes of heaven at your back
and only two charges left in your gun.”
And after he babbled some more of slipstreams and cosmic-dreams
and of the others who crawled the lines and hauled the lines
of force to the next beyond, we let him slide into twitchy sleep,
mumbling of phantoms and angels still to be seen.
It was just like they said in those early years,
before AIs regulated the flow of cosmic forces,
before cryo-sleep and synthetic hormones
spared a person’s mind from having to gaze at eternity:
That the road to the stars was paved with synapses and glory.
irv is a full-time system administrator, part-time student and part-time writer who lives with his wife in Western New York. He is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, though this is his first published poem. Yay!
I don’t know what inspired this poem, but I suspect it had something to do with a New Year’s Eve party many, years ago, when, after far too much scotch and a couple hours of a Star Trek-based video game, I began singing, “You can’t kill a drunken starship pilot” to the tune of “What do you do with a drunken sailor?”