572: Earth Evanescent

572: Earth Evanescent

572: Earth Evanescent


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

The other night, a cold dark Saturday, my husband and I watched the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 2008 remake of the 1951 classic). I don’t like scary movies, but I do love films about aliens or extraterrestrial life.

I also have always loved Keanu Reeves. I met him at the bar in the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills once. We were the only ones there, both of us waiting on meetings, and he very politely put out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Keanu.” And I almost died. Then his manager or agent arrived and whisked him off to a private table. And that was that. All this to say, I’d watch Keanu Reeves read the phone book.

The film, despite its flaws, has a great line in which Kathy Bates playing the Secretary of Defense says, “Why have you come to our planet?” and Klaatu, the extraterrestrial being played by Keanu Reeves, says, “Your planet?” She follows up with, “Yes, this is our planet.” And he says, “No, it is not.”

I think about this line a lot, as we think about the ways in which humanity has been careless with the earth. But I also think about it in terms of what it means to not be alone in the universe.

Why is there some part of me that wants to believe in other life forms out there, intelligent beings? That it’s not just space and rock and dust, but beings who can love, touch, feel, write poetry, maybe even help us. I admit some part of me thinks that proof of life on other planets might be possible. It’s that small part of me that was raised on Star Wars and Star Trek and ET.

I remember once ⏤ I was probably 8 or 9 ⏤ when I was driving home with my stepmom and I asked her if she believed in aliens. It was a cloudless night, the stars bright and seemingly closer, each one a widening pinprick in the sparkling blanket of night. She looked up through the windshield and said she thought there was a chance other beings might be out there, separated by time and distance so we may never know. Even then, I thought it was so brave to admit that we might not be alone, and not be scared by that fact, but instead be curious.

In today’s poem by the 1920s playwright and poet Maxwell Anderson, we watch as the speaker ponders this timeless question about whether we are alone in the universe.

Earth Evanescent
by Maxwell Anderson

If other planets dark as earth
About dim trembling stars
Carry frail freight of death and birth,
Wild love, and endless wars;

If from far, unseen motes in flight
Life look down questioning
This helpless passage through the night
Is a less lonely thing:

But if unchained through empty space
Drift only shell and fire
What seeks the beauty of this face,
What end has its desire?

A candle in a night of storms,
Blown back and choked with rain,
Holds longer than the mounting forms
That ride time’s hurricane.