The Big Drop Is the Only Way Home
Jonathan Johnson
                          –Capt. Joe W. Kittinger

To the not unending narration of what’s happened
around me I add another aurora borealis, this one
wind rising ice white off black ridged horizon
over head and highway between Glasgow and Wolf Point
as the U-Haul’s hazards pulse like hypothesis, red and small
on the gravel shoulder where I parked and left it
to wade into dark ocean of unfenced prairie
these few hundred feet closer to the northern sky.
Forgive me for making this case of a durable history
so current.  Don’t we all want a little revelation, America’s Moving Adventure
our private reinvention as flames form in mid air
and consume our stories?  Must we settle for revision?
Ink out the U-Haul, the Dakota atop its flat bed trailer,
our old 4Runner idling behind (Amy and Yukon inside
with the heater on and aurora through windshield, thanks anyway)
and it’s ten thousand years ago.  Or ten minutes. Or any era
the aurora streamed its dusty streamers of cathedral light
without us.  But like wagontrainers we carry
the day into night against our own rebirth
because we can’t bear to die away from it:
the bed we know each other by; the boots and brass candelabrum;
basil sprouting in terra cotta; end tables and sweat shirts
bearing in dresser drawered blindness our allegiances
to certain universities while another day strains against its line
like Yukon out the door of Room 14, La Casa Motel,
and into the low dawn of Glasgow’s dewy scents
across U.S. 2 and through trackside weedlots
under elevators of grain and expectation, airwaves
full of futures and GOOD LUCK SCOTTIES!  HOMECOMING 1999
on a banner over the end of town.
Even in the great everpresence of eastern Montana it seems
the future’s for all of us and we’re for the future.
Which we pair up with the past the way we make
the Homecoming Queen slow dance with the King
because they make a cute couple: Glasgow, Montana;
Norwich, North Dakota; Dover, Idaho.
Though her taffetaed waist feels nice in his hands,
she isn’t his, and outside the spotlight her boyfriend
fingers his tie and looks at his shoes.
And the U-Haul we rented one-way from Waynesburg, PA
says FLORIDA on its side under a six-foot space shuttle,
solid rocket boosters presumably full as these Glasgow silos
and ready to go!  We’ve certainly gone, pulled
the Dakota across its namesake as the 4Runner followed.
Capt. Joe W. Kittinger went to twenty and one half miles
in his balloon, stepped from the gondola
into an August day, 1960, arms open to the drop
of water and cloud curve below, and No wind
whistles or billows my clothing.  Here.  Eighty miles under the aurora.
Where this weightlessness is also an illusion.  The dazzle of ascension
after days of driving.  A few minutes without motion.
Up the road I’ll look back.  Up the road at La Casa Motel
I’ll read Kittinger’s words from the National Geographic on the night stand.
Then I roll over on my back and find an eerie sight.
The white balloon contrasts starkly with a sky as black as night.
Up the road. Up the road.  I’ll lighten my load.
Up the road at the edge of Glasgow I’ll know
that a Fabulous Hudson Hornet floats on blocks over a field
of frosted purple blossomed knapweed behind a Pizza Hut
and the glint that still flashes off its baked chrome
comes down from the sky that takes us all.

                           --originally appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review


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