Gretchen Rockwell :: “If I Lived on the International Space Station”

after Gabrielle Calvocoressi

It would not be very good 
for the plants. The experiments 
would become worthless—I’m sure 

if it was up to me to care 
for the sprouting seedlings, they’d 
die quicker than you can 

snap a black thumb. The scientists at NASA 
would sigh at the staticky refrain: Gretchen 
killed another sample today. Endless 

data lost, thanks to someone who 
never learned to nourish 
growing things. My grandmother 

and her green thumbs might 
keep the plants alive, but me? 
No, they’d probably hide  

me somewhere I would do less harm—
but where? I have no knack 
for numbers, nor for making machines 

run smoothly. Mostly, I could 
communicate with Mission Control
once I stopped overthinking 

everything. In my off hours, you’d find 
me staring at the Earth’s curve
waiting to go home. And then 

I’d miss the station. Point is, 
I’m unskilled at being 
the one who does the work 

of maintaining life. Improving 
slowly, I manage to keep a plant 
alive for nearly a year, even if 

its roots have rotted. Metaphor
for tenderness: the way my cat 
meows, knowing she’ll be fed. 

Make that active: knowing 
I’ll feed her. Even now I would 
tell my therapist relationships are work, 

even when that work is positive 
or welcomed like water in drought. 
Caretaking is its own laborious thing. 

If I lived on the ISS I would be 
careful to avoid the specimens 
indicating how well life survives 

in a vacuum. Just in case 
I might bias them unintentionally. 
Someone says I’m basically a plant, needing 

air, food, light to survive. I can’t 
say they’re wrong. Besides, don’t plants 
grow best when spoken to?

What can a plant say about our 
chances? Doesn’t everything change 
when observed? These questions 

are why I don’t live 
on the International Space Station, 
why I don’t keep plants 

alive for long. This is for the best, 
probably. Just imagine
what I’d do, given space.


Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet who can frequently be found writing about gender, science, space, and unusual connections. Xe is the author of the chapbooks body in motion (perhappened press) and Lexicon of Future Selves (VA Press) and two microchapbooks; xer work has appeared in AGNI, Cotton Xenomorph, Whale Road Review, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. Find xer at or on Twitter/Instagram at @daft_rockwell.