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Discovery

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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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Discovery

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  • 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 work. Salter is the author of many books of poetry, including A Kiss in Space (1999), Open Shutters (2003), A Phone Call to the Future (2008), and Nothing by Design (2013). Her second book, Unfinished Painting (1989) was a Lamont Selection for the most distinguished second volume of poetry published that year, Sunday Skaters (1994) was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and Open Shutters was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Salter has received fellowships from...

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