by Mary Jo Salter
6:48 a.m., and leaden
little jokes about what heroes
we are for getting up at this hour.
Quiet. The surf and sandpipers running.
T minus ten and counting, the sun
mounting over Canaveral
a swollen coral, a color
bright as camera lights. We’re blind-
sided by a flash:
shot from the unseen
launching pad, and so from nowhere,
a flame-tipped arrow—no, an airborne
pen on fire, its ink a plume
of smoke which, even while zooming
upward, stays as oddly solid
as the braided tail of a tornado,
and lingers there as lightning would
if it could steal its own thunder.
—Which, when it rumbles in, leaves
under or within it a million
firecrackers going off, a thrill
of distant pops and rips in delayed
reaction, hitting the beach in fading
waves as the last glint of shuttle
receives our hands’ eye-shade salute:
the giant point of all the fuss soon
smaller than a star.
Only now does a steady, low
sputter above us, a lawn mower
cutting a corner of the sky,
grow audible. Look, it’s a biplane!—
some pilot’s long-planned, funny tribute
to wonder’s always-dated orbit
and the itch of afterthought. I swat
my ankle, bitten by a sand gnat:
what the locals call no-see-’ums.