Timothy Makepeace, JWST Vertical Primary Mirror, 2017, charcoal and pastel on paper, 49 x 49 inches.

Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars)

We’re going to Mars 	for the same reason Marco Polo rocketed 
		to China
	for the same reason Columbus trimmed 
		his sails on a dream of spices
	for the very same reason Shackleton 
		was enchanted with penguins
	for the reason we fall in love
It’s the only adventure

We’re going to Mars	because Peary couldn’t go to the North 
		Pole without Matthew Henson
	because Chicago couldn’t be a city 
		without Jean Baptiste Du Sable
	because George Washington Carver and 
		his peanut were the right partners for 
		Booker T.
It’s a life seeking thing

We’re going to Mars	because whatever is wrong with us will not 
		get right with us so we journey forth 
		carrying the same baggage 
	but every now and then leaving 
one little bitty thing behind:
	maybe drop torturing Hunchbacks here;
	maybe drop lynching Billy Budd there;
	maybe not whipping Uncle Tom to death;
	maybe resisting global war.

One day looking for prejudice to slip…….one day looking for 
hatred to tumble by the wayside…….one day maybe the 
whole community will no longer be vested in who sleeps with 
whom…….maybe one day the Jewish community will be at 
rest…….the Christian community will be content…….the 
Muslim community will be at peace…….and all the rest of us 
will get great meals at Holydays and learn new songs and sing 
in harmony

We’re going to Mars 	because it gives us a reason to change
If Mars came here 	it would be ugly 
	nations would band together to hunt down and kill Martians
	and being the stupid undeserving life forms that we are
	we would also hunt down and kill 
		what would be termed 
	Martian Sympathizers
	As if the Fugitive Slave Law wasn’t 
		bad enough then
	As if the so-called War on Terrorism 
		isn’t pitiful Now
When do we learn and what does it take to teach us things cannot be:
	What we want
When we want
As we want
	Other people have ideas and inputs
And why won’t they leave Rap Brown alone
The future is ours to take

We’re going to Mars	because we have the hardware to do it… 
		we have 
	Rockets and fuel and money and stuff 
		and the only 
	Reason NASA is holding back is they 
		don’t know 
	If what they send out will be what they 
		get back
So let me slow this down;
Mars is 1 year of travel to get there…….
plus 1 year of living on Mars…….
plus 1 year to return to Earth…….
= 3 years of Earthlings being in a tight space going to 
an unknown place with an unsure welcome awaiting 
them … tired muscles … unknown and unusual foods … harsh 
conditions … and no known landmarks to keep them human … 
only a hope and a prayer that they will be shadowed beneath 
a benign hand and there is no historical precedence for that 
except this:

The trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans
I say, the trip to Mars can only be understood through Black Americans

The people who were captured and enslaved immediately 
recognized the men who chained and whipped them and herded 
them into ships so tightly packed there was no room to turn … 
no privacy to respect … no tears to fall without landing on 
another … were not kind and gentle and concerned for the state 
of their souls … no … the men with whips and with chains were 
understood to be killers … feared to be cannibals … known 
to be sexual predators … the captured knew they were in 
trouble … in an unknown place … without communicable 
abilities with a violent and capricious species …
But they could look out and still see signs of Home
they could still smell the sweetness in the air
they could see the clouds floating above the land they loved
But there reached a point where the captured could not only not 
	look back
they had no idea which way “back” might be
there was nothing in the middle of the deep blue water to 
indicate which way home might be and it was that 
moment … when the decision had to be made:
Do they continue forward with a resolve to see 
this thing through or do they embrace the waters 
and find another world
In the belly of the ship a moan was heard … and someone 
picked up the moan … and a song was raised … and that song 
would offer comfort … and hope … and tell the story …

When we go to Mars………it’s the same thing….it’s Middle 
When the rocket red glares the astronauts will be able to see 
themselves pull away from Earth … as the ship goes deeper 
they will see a sparkle of blue … and then one day not only will 
they not see Earth … they won’t know which way to look … 
and that is why NASA needs to call Black America

They need to ask us: How did you calm your fears … How 
were you able to decide you were human even when everything 
said you were not … How did you find the comfort in the face 
of the improbable to make the world you came to your world … 
How was your soul able to look back and wonder

And we will tell them what to do: To successfully go to Mars 
and back you will need a song … take some Billie Holiday for 
the sad days and some Charlie Parker for the happy ones but 
always keep at least one good Spiritual for comfort … You 
will need a slice or two of meatloaf and if you can manage it 
some fried chicken in a shoebox with a nice moist lemon pound 
cake … a bottle of beer because no one should go that far with-
out a beer and maybe a six-pack so that if there is life on Mars 
you can share … Popcorn for the celebration when you land 
while you wait for your land legs to kick in … and as you climb 
down the ladder from your spaceship to the Martian surface … 
look to your left … and there you’ll see a smiling community 
quilting a black-eyed pea … watching you descend
Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1, Fall 2021