Fireflies, Col. Glenn calls them—
banging the capsule’s wall to prove
their movement. This
will be the gesture Hollywood
claims as history—how space
dazzles even the seasoned airman,
maddens like Titania’s touch.
The movie version sees
what he sees: Florida yawn, Delta yawp,
a sunrise inside every hour,
lightning over the Indian Ocean.
Yet the operatic soundtrack, paced
in gilded silence, is not what he hears.
Wonder-ese is not the language
he speaks. For this,
we turn to the transcript. Pilot
to Cap Com; Cap Com to Pilot.
This is Friendship 7, going to manual.
Ah, Roger, Friendship 7.
Pilot, Texas Cap Com, Cape Canaveral.
Cap Coms chiming in from Canary,
Canton, Hawaii, Zanzibar, India,
Woomera: every visual check
on the gyros, inverter temp,
every correction to pitch and yaw,
fuel, oxygen, Ah, Roger, Ah, Over.
Say again your instructions please.
Over. Do you read? Standby.
You can be honest. This
is Godspeed-less, workaday chatter.
This is not what you’d save if
the National Archives were in flames.
You’d grab those proclamations.
You would cart the Magna.
You’d roll up the Constitution
like a favorite dorm-room Van Gogh,
and run. But I’ve got this one.
Because in these pages
my grandfather lives forever—
a Navy captain charged
with Glenn’s vitals, stretching
his stethoscope across 162 miles
and 18 tracking stations.
I hear him in each pressure check.
I see him biting his lip,
leaning toward a bank of dials
while the retropackage breaks, burns.
No one knows if the heat shield
will hold. Captain Pruett
goes unnamed. This
is how history claims us:
not in the gesture of one but
in the conversation of many,
the talk that gets the job done.
We climb into the syrup-can capsule
to circle the Earth three times.
The miraculous swarm, we realize,
is condensation. The light
will wink at us,
flake and ice of our own breath.
Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Beasley. Used with permission of the author.