Elegy for the Cassini Spacecraft
1997 – 2017
Today, like every day this month, I was thinking about your death. Or rather, your end. I was trying to imagine the moment when the pressure becomes too great or the heat too hot.
And then at about four o’clock in the afternoon I heard awful screaming. Sound carries strangely in our cul-de-sac and I couldn’t work out if it was happening in the distance or just under my window.
Part of the horror is the not knowing what’s making the sound. That’s why in good films, the bad thing is only glimpsed or not seen at all. I stood in my doorway trying to work it out: a dog was barking, a man was shouting, a woman was screaming.
And then I heard a body being struck with an object. I knew it was a body and not a thing by the odd way the other sounds bent around it. The traffic, the screaming, the trees and the wind all seemed to be warped by this blunt, irregular thumping. I ran towards it.
Behind a low fence, a man was beating a dog with a shovel. There were neighbours in windows and on the street, watching. There was the distant sound of sirens and the man stopped and went inside.
The dog was silent, looking blankly at the sky. We gathered round the fence. It was breathing, and then it wasn’t.
Cassini, today, as you dived between Saturn’s rings gathering data, I saw a dog die — a detached but very real sadness. A weary, inner ‘ohh’ , like a small balloon deflating.
The other dogs in the cul-de-sac wouldn’t stop barking until morning. They knew. I doubt it will be the same for you. I can’t imagine crows rising suddenly from the trees, or an old woman on her way home inhaling sharply: it’s gone!
Last night my dreams were full of that sound— shovel against dog. One billion kilometres is just too far for me to feel the violence of your loss, I’m sorry. I’ll imagine the moons instead, peeking over Saturn’s rings like silent neighbours watching helplessly as you begin to tremble, burn and break apart.
Sermon (for the burial of Cassini)
Ella Frears is a poet and visual artist based in London. She’s had poems in the LRB, Poetry London, Ambit, and The Rialto among others and was a finalist for the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Poetry. She’s completed residencies for the National Trust, Tate Britain, K6 Gallery and Royal Holloway University. Her poems about the St Ives Modernists are currently on show at Tate St.Ives. Ella’s poem ‘Fucking in Cornwall’ was commended in this year’s National Poetry Competition.