for Bartolomeu de Gusmão
There is something elegant about the early aviator’s
theories of flight -
airships fueled by alchemy
of ether, an element extracted from the atmosphere,
fixative of stars in heavens.
Without ether, his flying machine remains earthbound
unable to lift off -
And that is what we all want
to take flight like swallows, a dream so common
it bores our therapists,
but we hunger to outsmart gravity,
to feel our bones empty and hollow,
to record for all time our first instant of levitation.
And understand his madness
and hope his hypothesis
ether attracts humans
and inanimate objects to the sun
after amber gathered in glass globes,
awakens magnets to elevate his metal
plated ship will actually pan out.
Look at his drawing from the only surviving manuscript.
His airship improbable with bird shaped sails,
contraptions of pulleys and bellows,
its underbelly of giant feathers and garish flags,
and still parts of his theory are credible
as his first experiments flew unmanned through Lisbon.
Seconds before fleeing the Inquisition,
he burned his entire opus,
for what mortal dares fly and trespass in heaven?
All of us, we are all heretics
imagining ourselves winged and free.
by Kathleen Willard
(Nominated for Pushcart Prize, published in The Progenitor. Written after a visit to Mafra)
Kathleen Willard, MA Middlebury College, MFA Colorado State University, remembers her attendance at The Disquiet International Literary Program as a defining moment in her writing life. Forty of her poems have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies including: Bombay Gin, Matter, Proud to Be, and Landscape and Place. Her awards include a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to travel and write in India, attendance at Vermont Studio Center twice, the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference twice, and her poem “Theory of Flight, Circa 1704” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, published in The Progenitor and won the ACC Writer's Studio Prize.