It’s become so ordinary that no one talks anymore
about satellites chariotting across the twilight
their contrails diffused & aglow
before shattering like confidence,
like a vase thrown from a table. Imagine in Ohio
some young woman seeing that luminous streak
as if a child again. My parents once believed
in this thing called America, in the decades
after the last great war when so many reckoned
the States could win the space race, could have
a Great Society, could triumph over cancer.
Today no one drops pennies in a well
& that pencil mark of light scrawled
across the sky has the phone networks & internet
hectic with UFO stories, all aliens & convergence.
are we willing to place our bets on? In the bingo hall
a great aunt reorders her lucky charms each hour
on Thursday nights. They say the Pledge of Allegiance
before the first numbers are drawn. Thus we choose
to love again. Someone had conceived
we could get a sputnik in orbit, could reach
a rocket to the moon, & made us all believe in tomorrow:
a whole childhood of late-night
flying saucers & robots, of Martians & ray guns.
The future: heads, dystopian alien regime; tails, Arcadia.
Instead we received the space shuttle, the Reagan eighties,
Mars rovers. So much heartache, so much
not despair, but distraction. There’s an algorithm
tracking my internet searches, another designed
to predict whether my next love affair is going
to explode into a thousand shards; another has plotted
that satellite’s trajectory, determined how to crash
it into the Pacific, safely in a burst of water & steam
though experts admit that along the flight path may fall
a hail storm of debris —
detritus flaring out over cities, hot with reentry.
The flame shaking its hip atop the exhaust stack
among the smoking industrial chimneys & chemical stink,
petroleum tanks & refineries doing their particular, fine work,
that flame like a singular gigantic candle —
how it dominates the darkened skyline & whatever wishes
we might make. New moon, low clouds.
The airliners of nearby Newark nothing but intermittent lights
awaiting permission. Nearly ten miles away &
across any of three bridges, the ghosts of grade school
remain bored, awaiting an invitation. Those summers
the mosquitoes were wicked giants & we could always tell
when wind blew from the west — that unnatural burning
in the back of the nostrils & a certain lingering savoriness.
Whatever alchemy the chemical engineers perform
they’ve brought to the industrial parks & exhaled
into the nimbus moving eastward & into, too,
at least one hundred products available at your local store.
How amazing despite resolutions made
at the previous year’s demise, another attempt at renewal.
Transformation remains elusive as wildlife here
then here’s behind us, that blue orange blaze the last thing
in the rearview, so only a sulfurous aftertaste lingers
like a conversation in which someone declares it’s over,
like a kiss goodbye, unforgiving how it remains on the tongue.
Gerry LaFemina is the author of several books of poems including Vanishing Horizon, three books of prose poems, a short story collection, and Clamor, a novel. In 2014, Stephen F. Austin University Press released his newest poetry collection, Little Heretic, and a book of his essays on prosody, Palpable Magic. New work has recently appeared in The Sun, APR, Gettysburg Review and other journals. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he directs the Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University where he is an associate professor of English, and serves as a poetry mentor in the MFA program at Carlow University.