Bound to the boosters
like a circus cannon-clown,
his vital signs have all been verified;
the astronaut will take us into space.
Wedged among circuits,
pinned on his back by clamp and rigid hose,
his silver-suit a straitjacket
of telemetered glory,
he is a specimen of science,
a test, a design,
a mirror of dreams;
he will ride his brief black capsule
into the face of death, 
a pilot without helm
flung like an eyeless icarus,
false ambidextrian,
prisoner of aeronautic flows.
He will arc over oceans, caressing moons,
gripping the pitch and yaw;
his heart will pound
the rhythm of new stars.
The astronaut will take us into space.

We of the sixth grade class
will sit up back to watch and pray
as history is made.
Huddled on the gymnasium floor
cold as deep space,
a twelve-inch screen is all the universe;
we are driven to this day
with the frenzy of worship,
our prayer the fuel
to fly the hero’s craft.
There is no sitting still,
nothing else to do or want to do.
We are single-minded as ants foraging,
bees hiving,
there is no breath at all
in the final moments,
only tears, laughter, holding,
anything at all
in the thunder of ignition
the thin parabola of suborbital flight,
silent cauldron of re-entry,
eyes pressed against the fire,
drogue chute, 
main chute,
splashdown . . . 

It was nothing, this brief ballistic:
bullet, missile, seared capsule.
It was everything:
victory, madness, freedom,
messenger, portent, icon,
sea change.
My son and daughter inform me
that it can never be the same for them,
they who were born to this,
who have surpassed the moon,
contemplate planets, inexorably
achieve science fiction.
Yawning in the shadow
of another Shuttle launch
that stops my heart with
the wild adrenaline of love
as Alan Shepard did,
they simply walk away.

What will be their challenge, then,
what vast unknown,
unconquered crucible of gooseflesh?
What will rise:
the speed of light,
the speed of heart,
a pattern in the cosmic noise,
inorganic life?

I wish them a frontier.

Stan Lee Werlin’s short stories have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Sheepshead Review, Prime Number, Glassworks, Soundings East, and Saranac Review. His humorous children’s poetry has been published in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. He holds a BA from Harvard and an MBA from The Wharton School. Reach him on Twitter @natsnilrew.