September 2, 2014
(EPA / Luong Thai Linh)
(Luong Thai Linh/European Pressphoto Agency)

The gecko that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

And the space geckos are no more. Russia confirmed the news.

Let us pause to reflect upon our loss.

(with deepest apologies to W. H. Auden)

They disappeared in the tail of summer
The brooks were babbling, airports hummingly busy
The pigeons disfigured the public statues
What instruments we have agree
The day of their death was a relatively clement day.

Perished with them the comfortable thought
That the satellite just overhead in the sky
That you mistook too many times for a star
Might contain geckos
Copulating for science.

And no matter how bad or disorienting things
On this space-marble might have seemed
You could at least consider the fact that
Maybe we had not gotten everything wrong
Because we could look up
And know that somewhere up in space
Were geckos
Trying their best to copulate in zero-G.

There was something reassuring in that.

II

They died as they lived:
copulating for science, in space.
They died doing what they loved: other geckos.
And, of course, science.
They froze, I hear, and that is how they were discovered.
The scientists have just retrieved their bodies.
Russia has confirmed their death.
They are no more.

III

Earth, receive an honored guest.
Space geckos are here to rest
Let the spaceship vessel lie
Emptied of its lizardry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the Soviet space dogs bark
And the living geckos spar
Hoping to insure your car

Science! Oh! What have you wrought
All our geckos, come to naught!
Lizards at whom once we laughed
Locked and frozen in their craft

The ship returned, but they, the crew
Had perished by September 2.
They touched the face of God, you see
But perished by re-enter-y.

To copulate in zero-G
Takes a stronger soul than me
I mean “than I” — this news has left
Even my grammar quite bereft

Gone, now, gone, our source of mirth
Gone the lizard hope of earth!
Gone those five, that hardy few
Sent to do what geckos do

Sent where others fear to tread
Sent to hover overhead
And be subject of a poem
As we sought to bring them home

Follow, science, follow right
To the bottom of the night
Every time we see a star
Think of where the geckos are

Follow where their footsteps trace
Follow, follow, human race
Follow where the geckos lead
Maybe next time we’ll succeed.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.