By all-star orchestra, they dine in space
in a long steel muscle so fast it floats,
in a light waltz they lie still as amber
watching Earth stir in her sleep beneath them.
They have brought along a plague
of small winged creatures, whose brains are tiny
as computer chips. Flight is the puzzle,
the shortest point between two times.
In zero gravity, their hearts will be light,
not three pounds of blood, dream and gristle.
When they were young men, the sky was a tree
whose cool branches they climbed,
sweaty in August, and now they are the sky
young boys imagine as invisible limbs.
On the console, a light summons them
to the moment, and they must choose
between the open-mouthed delirium in their cells,
the awe ballooning beyond the jetstream,
or husband all that is safe and tried.
They are good providers. Their eyes do not wander.
Their fingers do not pause at the prick
of a switch. Their mouths open for sounds
no words rush into. Answer the question
put at half-garble. Say again
how the cramped world turns, say again.
— Diane Ackerman
"Space Shuttle" is from Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 1991 © by Diane Ackerman. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Home page image: "Wegbereiter Ikarus," print, woodblock on paper, by Wilhelm Geissler, 1966. (Courtesy NASM)