Poem of the Week | October 13, 2014

This week we’re delighted to feature a poem by Emily Rosko. Rosko’s two poetry collections are Prop Rockery, awarded the 2011 Akron Poetry Prize, and Raw Goods Inventory, an Iowa Poetry Prize winner in 2005. She is editor of A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (University of Iowa Press, 2011). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Elsewheremag, New American Writing, Octopus Magazine, and Sycamore Review. She is assistant professor at the College of Charleston and poetry editor for Crazyhorse.
Author’s note:

Early balloonists were daredevils, romantics, striving to go beyond the human imagination with their application of science and invention into new technologies. The hot air balloon was the first to give humans the air—a new perspective of the earth, the access to test the qualities of atmosphere, and flight. These advances with the balloon were celebrated, marveled at, crowd-drawing spectacles that heightened people’s passions about what the human race could accomplish. There was an avidity of possibility. Even Benjamin Franklin upon hearing about the French balloonists’ accomplishments stated: “Someone asked me—what’s the use of a balloon? I replied—what’s the use of a new-born baby.” As with most wonderful technological advances, after the first successful manned balloon flight, many wanted to harness the balloon’s use for political reasons—namely war and espionage.
I’m indebted to Richard Holmes’s Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air (Pantheon Books, 2013) for the information on the history of ballooning.



Paris, December, 1783. The first manned gas balloon flight
by Jacques Charles and Nicholas Louis Robert.


The ground was well-traversed, each mountain
summit marked, coastlines drawn. Some depths
too had been achieved. But now, the atmosphere,
now to lift the body to heights with the fall
of all sound. We could rise by hemp and silk,
wicker and wire, by gas heat pulsing aflame
a chambered organ. The balloon’s globe
centered the sky. It dizzied us from both sides
looking up, looking down. Rivers’ scripted
curves, folds of treetops, vegetation in farmers’
fields. The lines of stone walls that enclosed
property, towns. We could go anywhere
the wind favored: no country
boundaries, all the unclaimed above.



To survey, first the eye must
grow accustomed to the turning


perspective, then one must stand
leaning over the edge penciling


the topography: the first look
above the unorganized cities, plotted


hectares, cathedral domes and spires.
Ascent swells the eye


to all-seeing: the aeronaut
mythic with dominion


over the microscopic people left
on the ground. What vantage


of the ongoing world! the unfathomed
textures. Time thins, the air ices


the lungs. The realms one beholds
from nowhere in the zeroed blue.



The balloon’s flight chanced open
the sky with possibilities. Designs
were hatching. Many thought our lives


reinvented, that cities would exist
floating in the utopic blue, that the marvel
would bring us closer


to God’s eye. But we were still
ourselves, with no new ideas
save the old ones: how to move armies


across the channel, how to keep watch
of enemies. We could see and record all
so that nothing would ever surprise us again.