Yellowshirt Elegy

By Meghan Phillips

 

Down in engineering you can’t even see
the stars.

Dad was so proud when I was reassigned—
the heart
of the ship, the heart
of the ship,
You are working in
the heart
of the ship. How do I tell him
what it’s like
in the cavity where I work?

Sixteen hours on,
eight off. No sense
of time but what
the clocks tell me,
and even they
are wrong. Warp core
fluctuations cause minor
temporal distortions. Nanoseconds
repeating, moments flickering
like phaser pulses—
I don’t even know
what the star date is. The computer
adds it to my logs.

How do I explain the slow burn
of long-term exposure to the core?
The little waves of electromagnetic
radiation, rolling over you until
your bones soak in the rhythm
of their particles?

I try to say—
it’s like that time we went
kayaking on Cayuga Lake,
remember? The water
looked still,
barely a ripple, but, as you paddled away
I was battered
by tiny waves,
the wakes

of other boats.
The rocking rocking rocking
made me so sick, I had to turn around,
had to lie on my back
in the gravelly sand
until my insides stopped
moving.

How do I say—
I’ve been on The Enterprise
for three years, and I’ve only
seen the captain once?
He looked at my shirt,
nodded “ensign.”  
Told the turbo lift “bridge”
in a clipped voice.

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake. That we
were never
meant to be so far
in space,
untethered
from the sun we know,
forever treading grey corridors
in yellow shirts.

Instead I say— the stars
are so beautiful out here, dad.

 


Meghan Phillips is the fiction editor for Third Point Press and an associate editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in matchbook, WhiskeyPaper, and Paper Darts. This is her first published poem.