By Jo Langdon

Edited by Elizabeth Flux

Rush of ascension, to know this
kind of high—height—&
falling, the sky’s
pulse yours,
this lift & freight: ‘famed
aeronaut’ three times
thwarted: days of rain a weight
in canvas & silk, until—

[May 17, 1890]
—the balloon made of Irish linen & measured
                        75 feet high; 156 feet in circ., w cubic
capacity of 70,000 feet

Lick of wind, salt, palm
leaves heavy under
sun, each shadow some
improbable tether, so that

—finally the parachute, the top of which affixed
                     to hang limply partway up—
—Having at this point attained an altitude of
             est. 5000 ft., & seeing—

there’s only possibility—
a sharp turn & dissolve,
light swept under
lashes, strand to lip

surge of wind, cirrus,
gleam of isthmus,
as though you might fall
in shards, glancing

—beneath her, Mlle Viola parted company
           with the balloon—

Kick to shore, then—
water reckless, teasing
your eye in threads of colour, glint
of bauble, string

                              —a graceful and somewhat rapid parachute descent
                                                                By means of a little swinging— 

to this stretch of jetty, glassed-in
carousel & contested
Xmas tree, silver
surface of glamour

breaking, breaking
stone to shore to stretch
of pale beach, knot
of weed & edge

—she soon got beyond the possibility 
of a ducking in the bay—

cuttlefish, bone
quartz strewn strip,
painted posts brilliant
white as brides.

So to land: green
crescent of peppercorn, bud, blue
stone banks. Not the death
of nerves, your body yours as yet—

                           —eventually the parachute 
                             with its fair freight alighted— 

not breathless, exactly, not
like that; some senseless
rapture. To be under the sky, now
out of it—

                                                                        —in Pevensey Crescent, close 
to Bell’s Terrace—


Notes on the poem: the italicised lines are taken and adapted from archival sources as well as the book A passion for flight: New Zealand aviation before the Great War – Volume One: Ideas, First Flight Attempts and the Aeronauts 1868-1909 by Errol W. Martyn, Volplane Press, Christchurch, NZ, 2012.


​Jo Langdon is the author of the poetry collections Snowline (Whitmore Press 2012) and Glass Life ​(forthcoming with Five Islands Press)