Articles of Exploration

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Articles of Exploration

Articles of Exploration

We begin with a poem that ponders the use of the letter (and word) “a” and, though some facts may have changed since the poem was written, the importance of that little word endures. 

"Articles of Exploration" by John Donoghue

He singsonged it to himself as he studied the maps
of the Sea of Tranquility, he spoke it out loud in the shower— That’s one small step for a man,
one giant leap for mankind

but up there on the moon
he blew it, he got so caught up with getting down the ladder safely
he left out the rotten little a.

We knew what he meant, and he knew
we knew it, but he would have slapped his forehead
if he could have, and there was no going back up the ladder.

It’s said that he avoids interviews, doesn’t attend celebrations
or go to reunions; in the midst of all that perfection
did something in him mean to screw it up? He’ll never know.
Who was Deep Throat? Did Oswald act alone?

Years later when the first Viking landed on Mars
nothing was said: the camera turned on, a door opened,
and the machine went to work. We could have given it speech,
we could have had it say — flawlessly —

That’s one small step for a machine,
  One giant leap for machinekind

but words, weighing too much, and with no human
to say them, just aren’t worth it.
 

“Articles of Exploration” by John Donoghue from A Small Asymmetry. Cleveland State Poetry Center 2003. Used with permission of the author.
John Donoghue is the author of the poetry collections Precipice and A Small Asymmetry. He holds a PhD in engineering from Case Institute of Technology and an MFA in creative writing from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. For the last 40 years he has taught electrical engineering at Cleveland State University.