Life on Mars is a collection of skillful poems written by Tracy K Smith. This book reflexes the relationship between our life and the Universe. This book is also the tribute to her father who began his work as an engineer on Hubble space telescope (One of the large Space telescope launched by NASA in 1990 and is still in operation). In this book Tracy K smith uses space as an interest she inherited from her father as sort of an entry point into more earthly concerns.
She won Pulitzer prize for poetry in 2012 for this book. But apart from talking about the personal griefs and sorrows she has talked about the griefs relating to much bigger aspects like ‘Killing of the geese at JFK,’ ‘Struggles of African American identity’, ‘Racial motivated killings’ etc. Life on Mars at its core is an elegy. The book is divided into four parts and in most of the parts she has talked about her personal grief of death of her father.
It dealt with matters of grief and religious faith in the wake of her father’s death. Some of the poem in her collections like “The Speed of Belief” and “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” are moving elegies for her father.
“The death was thinking of you or me, or our family, or the woman, our father would abandon when he died. Death was thinking what it owed him: His ride beyond the body, its garments.” Here, the poet talks about how the death of her father made her family suffered big time.
But this poem as a whole is not only about personal grief but it also mentions some of the terrible moments that has occurred in USA which actually questions our humanity. The raw and deep writing which includes these terrible events deeply shake our hearts. In the poem Solstice, Tracy has mentioned about the killing of geese in JFK in 2009. “They are gassing geese outside of JFK.” Five days before Obama was inaugurated in 2009, US Airways flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson river after it collided with a flock of Canadian geese. After that incident, more than 70,000 birds including gulls, starling and geese and other birds were slaughtered by shooting and trapping them.
Tracy has mentioned about this horrific event many times in the poem ‘Solstice’, because killing of the birds does not ensure the safety of the planes. “We dislike what they did at JFK. Our time is brief. We dwindle day by day.” Sometimes due to unfortunate reasons accident do happens but it doesn’t necessarily mean to kill the animals to ensure safety. That was one of the stupid act done by city and port authority. There were several protests by conservationists and people outside of the airport speaking against the stupidity of the act which reminds us that there are many justices left to fight against in this world and how fighting for peace is always an uphill task to do. Killing of the animal was not a long-term solution. Not only the migratory birds but resident birds were also killed which was one of the disgraceful act by humanity. So, Tracy Smith has mentioned about this sorrowful event in her poem because she felt that as time passes by we tend to dwindle day by day.
The poem “They May Love All That He Has Chosen and Hate All That He Has Rejected” is one of the sorrowful poem that includes the different incidents of motivated murders that took place between May 6 to June 10, 2009.Smith has written about all these horrific events jointly because she wanted to write about the injustice among the people. In this poem Smith has written the poem in the form of letters written by the dead people to their murderers. One of the example she includes is heartfelt plea by a 9-year-old victim Brisenia Flores to her murderers Shawna Forde, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola. “Dear Shawna, how are you? Today we took a boat to an island. It was cold even though the sun was hot on my skin. When we got off the boat there was a statue of a big tall lady. My daddy and I rode in an elevator all the way up to the to of her head. My daddy says we’re free now to do whatever we want. I told him I wanted to jump through the window and fly home to Arizona. I hope to become a dancer or veterinarian.” Smith wrote this in the form of letter because she wanted to show that how a dream of an innocent 9-year-old kid was shattered away because she was brutally murdered in her own home along with her father. Smith wants to show that the love and humanity in the people is slowly fading away. It is just a basic example of cruel humanity that has existed in the world.