Discovery

by Mary Jo Salter

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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.