Ode for Orville and Wilbur Wright

Ode for Orville and Wilbur Wright

I don't yearn for their steep excursion
Into fame and fortune, for it had
The usual price, and Orville died bitter
And Wilbur died young. I envy them
Only the slender and empty distance they left
Between them and a seaside's grassy bluffs
In mild December, the frail ingenuity
Of dreams, a lifetime's hopes made of string and cloth
And a little puttering motor that might have run
A lawnmower if the brothers had put their minds
To one first. For dumb exhilaration, nothing—
Not an F-16 thundering from its base
In Turkey, nor my red-eye circling O'Hare—
Comes close to what they must have felt
For less than a shaking, clattering minute,
Clearing all attachment to the world
Of dickering and petty concerns: for some,
No other heaven. So I take note of them
As they took notes from the lonely buzzard, obsessed
To the point of love with the ghostly air
And the small fluttering things that wandered
Through it. Eccentric but never flighty,
Bookish but not above nicking their hands
In bicycle shops and basements, they lived
With their sister and tinkered with the future.
Propelled by ambition, the mandate
It invents, they still heeded the laws
Of nature, trimmed needless weight, saw everything,
Even themselves, as burden, determined
Not to crash and burn. Sheer will launched them,
Good will, because those first forty yards
Skimming shale and reeds were for everyone.
Facedown between the struts, staring at the ground
As it blurred past, they failed like anyone
To grasp the implications. But legs flailing,
They hung on, buoyed by never and almost
And then just barely. I could do worse
Than their brief rapture, their common sense
Of purpose. Or I could, if only
For a moment, exalt them, go along
With the jury-rigged myth, the quaint
Contrivance that lets them rise above it all.

—David Moolten, 2001

"Ode for Orville and Wilbur Wright" first appeared in The Southern Review (Winter 2001). The poem also appears in David Moolten's book Especially Then (2005). Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Home page image: "Wegbereiter Ikarus," print, woodblock on paper, by Wilhelm Geissler, 1966. (Courtesy NASM)

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