When ]upiter shields Valhalla impact basin
from the light of the small white sun
and the streaming particles of its wind,
the patients who are able may come
and linger in the courtyard,
with its soothing views of a thoroughly fireproof world—
concentric rings and ridges of ice and stone
to the black horizon.
The patients move with exquisite care,
never too close to each other or to anything,
sipping bottled oxygen,
dressed, where they can be covered, in white
cotton shifts and strips of gauze.
Even those with eyebrows and lashes
appear to have two holes burned in their faces.
The doctors who watch them are not old,
but their faces are slack and soft as worn denim.
Each qualified for this post by the loss
of an irreplaceable love;
they aren't homesick for an Earth they could ever go back to.
There's room in them now for oceans of understanding,
and they see the use for severe burn victims
of these conditions—
feeble light, mild gravity, ice-covered ground,
no touch of air to dread.
No atmosphere. That's why the sky is black
all day, which does tend to bother the nurses,
the aides, the kitchen staff, the housekeeping crew,
all of whom are encouraged to miss their planet,
and when they cry, are to do so hunched
over sterile vials meant to preserve
the healing proteins found in common tears.