Message From Afar

This poem tells the story of an astronomer who thinks he discovers a message from a civilization other than our own--exactly what the SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) organization has been seeking for years.

One statement that is ludicrous in this poem is that the hero is able to reserve seven hours' of observation time using the Hubble Space Telescope with less than one day's notice--in actuality, every minute of the Hubble's existence is booked months, if not years, ahead of time.

This poem was first published in the May/June 1999 issue and then again in the November/December 1999 issue of Quantum Magazine.

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Message From Afar
Copyright 1996 David Arns
Once upon a weeknight dreary,
I beheld an image smeary,
Captured by a telescope that's been in space
    from days of yore,
As I sat with eyelids drooping,
A strange and unexpected grouping
Of celestial objects caught my eye like none
    had done before--
I knew I had to find out more.

I didn't know what I was seeing,
But I thought, "Another being
From another galaxy, perhaps an alien
    'Signal Corps,'
Created this configuration
To confer some information
To a random listener. Yes, surely that is
    what it's for!"
Thus I let my fancy soar.

Then I stopped and gripped the table,
Forced my thoughts to be more stable,
Realizing I would need some proof, some
    evidence, and more.
So I called to book the Hubble--
To my surprise, I had no trouble
Getting seven hours' observation time,
    that day at four.
Now I'd give them proof galore!

So I made my observations,
Measurements, and calculations,
Disbelief and wonder nearly left me breathless
    on the floor.
This was proof beyond ignoring--
Sweat was from my brow outpouring--
I could see my name in scientific journals
(I'd been a no-name heretofore.)

Five weeks, and almost all was ready,
(I'd show those stuck-up folks at SETI!)
I merely had to translate all these symbols
    I had grabbed before.
Already I had seen a pattern:
The spectrogram's bright lines were scatterin'
In ways that shocked, amazed, bewildered, stunned and
    shook me to the core--
A message from a distant shore!

Methodically, I put together
Facts and data, heedless whether
Days were passing, pizza mould'ring, knocks and calls
    outside my door.
Finally, it was translated,
And I stood aghast, deflated:
The message from afar, for which I'd launched into
    my eight-week chore,
Read only, "Made in Singapore."

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