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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"The Golden Record" by Christopher Fox Graham

This audio recording of Bulgarian folk sing Valya Balkanska performing “Izlel e Delyu Haydutin,” is one of several songs on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes.

"The Golden Record"
A poem for the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft
By Christopher Fox Graham

Valya Balanska
in 60,000 years
when the human race is extinct
racing at a geologic pace to fossilize ourselves
next to dinosaurs
Valya Balkanska will still be singing
she may be the last
and only voice
the galaxy knows of our species

to tell her story
I must begin at the beginning:
we all shared the same neighborhood once
when matter didn’t matter so much
but FLASH-BANG! scattered us
like children
from doors of school
on the last day before summer
some stayed close to home
while others wanted to see how far away they could run

and when they began to pick up the pieces
they clung to each other so tightly
you could feel the gravity of it all
but these rocky asteroids and gas giants
comets of ice and terrestrials covered in methane or argon
stare across the vacuum playing telephone with each other
and wonder if they’ll ever touch again

can you hear them?
they speak slow
some syllables take millions of years to finish
but out in the black
are so many lost marbles
they number a billion billion for each one of us here
they, too, were born blind in the dark
wondering, “what is this place”“
and “where did I come from?”
they cling to the nearest glowing stars
like lost children
terrified to be alone

The Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977.
among the sea
in a stretch of nebula
on one of those marbles
unremarkable in its ordinariness
a thump-pulse of moving things speaks so fast
the planets can’t understand the gibberish
but they love the sound of it all
it reminds them of a split moment in lost memory
when we all were dancing on the head of a pinprick

those creatures, they say,
have sent ambassadors into the stars
riding radio waves in images and sounds
but we have no way to answer, just to listen
a few constructions of metal
have sailed into the dark bearing their dreams
like messages in bottles
so if they annihilate themselves
in a flash of fire
or by eating up all the matter on which they survive
something will remain to prove
there was some magic once

The Golden Record with encoded messages about how to play it,
Earth's location triangulated with 14 pulsars, and information about
the hydrogen atom to give a point of measurement reference.
on one of those lost satellites called Voyager
now 18 billion miles away from a home
it will never see again
is a golden record
and instructions to play it
so if, in eons hence
on some other marble, wiser life sprouts
and in their wild youth,
breaks the laws of gravity
they may find it floating wandering in the dark
and hear the sounds

of us

those alien discoverers may not get past the wonder
of greetings in 55 different human languages
saying in Begali “Hello! Let there be peace everywhere.”
or in Indonesian “Good night ladies and gentlemen.” and
“Goodbye and see you next time.”

after hearing “Johnny B. Goode”
they may crusade the stars
searching for Earth
and more Chuck Berry
they may listen over and over
to the perfect precision of Beethovan’s 5th symphony

or the unleased joy in the Peruvian wedding song

1½ tons of metal
weighing nothing in the ether
carries our billion conversations
every love story
every epic poem
every genocide and celebrity wedding
every nation to rise and fall
every miracle
manmade or otherwise

1½ tons of metal
carries the weight of 10,000 years of human history
on a record barely an hour long

But when they hear Valya Balkanska sing“Izlel e Delyu Haydutin,”
our evolution and extinction will not have been in vain

those alien discoverers
may not have tears
but they will know we did
they may not understand grief
but the first sound they utter afterward
will become it
they will understand
why we could not bear to be alone
when there were so many lost marbles
aching to feel footsteps
the touch of stargazing strangers
they will know there was good in us
and they may even call us 

to the creatures who find Voyager:
you may not have a song to mourn your dead
but as Valya’s haunting melody
and the Bulgarian pipes
retch all the sorrow of a million human generations 
into the stars one last time
you have a mourning song now

and Valya,
Valya will sing it for us

Bulgarian lyrics

Излел е Делю хайдутин,
хайдутин ян кеседжия
с Домбовци и Караджовци.
Зароча Дельо пороча
Дериденските аяне,
айяне, кабадаие:
- Две лели имам в селоно,
да ми ги не потурчите,
да ми ги не почърните,
че кога флезем в селоно,
млого щат майки да плачат,
по-млого млади нивести,
дете ще в корем проплака.

Гюлсюме Делю заръча:
- Варди са, Делю, чувай са,
канят са да та примажат,
деридеренски аяне,
аяне, кабадаие:
сребърен куршум ти леят,
та ще та, Делю, удрият.
- Гюлсюме, любе Гюлсюме,
не са е родил чилякън,
дену ще Деля примаже.

English translation

Deljo the hayduk went out,
the hayduk, the rebel
with the Dumbovi and the Karadjovi clans.
Deljo gave the following orders
to the brazen-faced governors of Zlatograd:
- "There are two aunts of mine in the village.
Do not make them Turks,
do not besmirch them,
because when I come back
a lot of mothers will cry,
a lot of young brides,
and unborn children."

Gyulsume told Deljo:
- "Beware, Deljo, beware,
you are being threatened, Deljo
the Zlatograd rulers,
the brazen-faced governors,
they cast a silver bullet
for you, Deljo, to kill you."

- "Gyulsume, my love Gyulsume,
not yet is born a man
who could kill me."

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