By Mary Jo Salter b. 1954
6:48 a.m., and leaden
    little jokes about what heroes   
   we are for getting up at this hour.
Quiet. The surf and sandpipers running.   
T minus ten and counting, the sun   
    mounting over Canaveral
a swollen coral, a color
bright as camera lights. We’re blind-
   sided by a flash:

      shot from the unseen
    launching pad, and so from nowhere,   
   a flame-tipped arrow—no, an airborne   
pen on fire, its ink a plume
of smoke which, even while zooming   
    upward, stays as oddly solid
as the braided tail of a tornado,
and lingers there as lightning would   
   if it could steal its own thunder.

      —Which, when it rumbles in, leaves   
    under or within it a million   
   firecrackers going off, a thrill   
of distant pops and rips in delayed   
reaction, hitting the beach in fading   
    waves as the last glint of shuttle
receives our hands’ eye-shade salute:   
the giant point of all the fuss soon   
   smaller than a star.

      Only now does a steady, low   
    sputter above us, a lawn mower   
   cutting a corner of the sky,
grow audible. Look, it’s a biplane!—
some pilot’s long-planned, funny tribute   
    to wonder’s always-dated orbit   
and the itch of afterthought. I swat
my ankle, bitten by a sand gnat:   
   what the locals call no-see-’ums.

Mary Jo Salter, “Discovery” from Open Shutters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Open Shutters: Poems (2003)

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Poet Mary Jo Salter b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

 Mary Jo Salter


Poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She grew up in Michigan and Maryland, and earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge University. A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry Salter’s thorough understanding of poetic tradition is clearly evident in her . . .

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POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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