Marlena Chertock


On that one-way trip to Mars

If I didn’t have a bone disorder
I would go to Mars
and never come back.

I would go to Mars,
send an application to NASA,
tell them my coding is so-so,
I’ve never peered into a robot’s circuitry
but I’d like to learn how.

I would go to Mars,
someone who has to
look and write and revise
to understand. Someone who believes
there’s other life out there,
not because of scientific proof
or a god told me, but because I want
humanity to feel less lonely.

I would go to Mars and send back news
of the Sols. I’d create the first
Martian newspaper, publish
the first book of Martian poetry,
paint the Martian soil with my words.

I would go to Mars if I wasn’t too short
for NASA’s height restrictions.
I’d tell them you can fit more short people
into a rocket. Don’t worry
about my bone deterioration rate,
I had arthritis at 13. Walked like an old lady
at 20. It’d be nice to float
and give my bones a break.

I would go to Mars
if I didn’t have bones
clicking against each other,
if I was a jellified blob. If the genetic
letters within me
didn’t spell out feeble,
different, unfit for space travel. 

"On that one-way trip to mars" originally appeared in Crab Fat Magazine.


Application to NASA

Even if all the pain I’ve felt in my whole life doesn’t equal
the pressure an astronaut experiences in G-forces on reentry,

even if the fact that I’ve been staring up since I was born —
at people and the stars — isn’t enough,

even if I was born with arthritis,
cushioning between my bones faulty,

even though I’m beneath your stated height restrictions,
I was shorter than every water slide and roller coaster I’ve ridden on too,

even when my lower left back feels like
it’s been hollowed out with a jagged spoon,

even through the spreading unfeeling,
numbness from my butt to my toes,

even if my room at 10 and 25 shines
with green glow-in-the-dark stick-on stars,

even when sneezing feels like I’ll push
my spine out of alignment,

still I’m strong. I may be one of the strongest
candidates you’ve ever had.

"Application to NASA" originally appeared in Noble/Gas Quarterly.


Moon, or no moon

excerpts from GQ, 2014

Buzz Aldrin was burdened.
His grandfather shot a bullet
into his brain. His mom swallowed
pills a year before he took off from Earth.
Moon or no moon, suicide was in his blood,
“a genetic association.” He had a mental breakdown
after returning from the moon. He drank, divorced, went
to the psych ward, was broke. Like a new moon on a cold night
in February, frost crunching under his boots. Melancholy ran in the
Moon side of his family, his mother’s maiden name Moon. When he climbed down
the ladder and first saw the moon, spread out, really in front of him, he called it “magnificent desolation.”


The martian comes to me

while I’m waiting for the Metro.
It’s late again, and she says
she wishes she could use her spaceship
in the city — no-fly zones or something.

The martian is on a mission
to learn about all forms of transportation.
She’s always on the go. She loved
the subways in Paris. Underground,

a familiar sense of being lost. In Chile,
she took a 12-hour bus ride,
tried to sleep in the non-reclining seat.
German submarines do wacky things

to the martian’s ear canals.
When she gets back on land it takes weeks
for her hearing to rise back like bubbles.
American airplanes are where the martian

feels most at home. She doesn’t love
having someone else pilot,
but at least the turbulence
of flight is back in her body.

"The martian comes to me" originally appeared in Calamus Journal.


A speck of pain

in the immense black.
A whimpering fleck of dust
in endless starlight

what does it mean
to ache always.
Will someone, some life

form understand
me, a speck, one tiny part
of one race

on one small planet
in our small solar system
in the vast galaxy.


I give a cosmic middle finger

The black hole in my lower left back
wants to swallow me whole. But
I’m trying to have more good days
than dark. My back sucks my energy
like a fat leech living in my spine,
transforms it into the biggest invisible
middle finger light-years wide.
You can’t see it because black holes
are invisible. My back adheres
to their laws of gravity —
absorbing my smile and confidence
and blasting out darkness.
I give a visible middle finger back at
my back, tell myself I know how
to talk to the universe’s most feared
unknowns. Look it straight in the
event horizon, stick out my tongue.    


Aging with the solar system

I would not even be born yet
on Pluto. I’m still in my mother’s womb.
It’s the 18th century there, while on Earth
we’re sped up to a technologic 2016.

On Jupiter, I’m in my terrible twos,
snatching toys from my siblings
and throwing tantrums for every reason.

Mars, I’m just becoming a teenager,
my spine beginning its curve,
I’ll need to wear a brace next year.

On Venus, I’m almost 40.
I spend my 243 days to Earth’s 1 reading.
Maybe I have kids by then.

If I live to Mercury’s orbit,
I’m 99, almost an Earth-century,
a galactic centennial. There,
my bones would be even more brittle.

"Aging with the solar system" originally appeared in Black Heart Magazine.


You magnify the universe

with your dreams. You’ll never get to space
without a science degree, hours of
test pilot training, actually exercising.
But in your dreams you’re floating
in black, planets and asteroids
spread around you. Don’t get stuck
thinking how you’ll never be
an astronaut. One day you may
witness people landing on Mars,
sharing your love for the stars.
Keep magnifying the universe —
because it’s still expanding, with or without you.


Editors' note: Some of these poems originally appeared in Marlena's first full-length poetry collection, On That One-Way Trip to Mars.


read marlena's biography

return to issue 4: May 2017