What does it say of the aliens’ gait
that they left a planet riddled
with stairways that never resolve
into an easy walk for us.
Four steps too short, then one
that requires a lift and a scramble;
the pattern repeats wherever there are stairs,
which is everywhere throughout the planet.
How many limbs did they have?
How did they walk?
But mostly, why did they leave, and where?
What does it say of the aliens’ speech
that the letters carved into every step
look identical to us?
Incredibly complicated swirls
of precise curves and crosses,
but each the same.
To our eyes, at least.
Our instruments report
an intricate array of non–random cracks
within each glyph,
microscopic patterns that vary from place to place,
hinting at meaning.
Is each letter merely the outline of a deeper message?
A book that holds the real text within?
We ask those invisible lines
to tell us about the aliens,
to speak of who they were and where they went
and why they left behind the hints they did.
What does it say of the aliens’ science
that their plants still grow in lines,
that the years of natural processes
only emphasize their absence
without erasing their past?
Yet no hint of their machinery remains,
the stairs empty, the fallen walls hiding
In the ruins it’s easy
to imagine they’ve been gone
since humanity’s infancy,
millions of years to erase their mark.
Beneath the tree-like plants,
they seem to have only just stepped out
to borrow a neighbor’s shovel.
We turn our questions
from the steps to the trees,
and perhaps the answers are coming.
We sense they are,
the explanations growing
in the seed fluff that falls with our breath.
Daniel Ausema is a writer and poet from Colorado. His fiction has previously appeared in Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares, and others, and he is a member of the SFPA. He is also the creator of the steampunk-fantasy serial fiction, Spire City, which is open to subscribers. He can be found online at http://danielausema.blogspot.com.