Annie Przypyszny

Humankind as the Brothers Mongolfier

                ...little dreaming then
               To see, Montgolfier, thy silken ball
                Ride buoyant through the clouds…
                              - Anna Laetitia Barbauld, “Washing Day”

We marvel at the mundane: laundry
spread to dry above the fire.
The fabric                     floats
                                         and swells
like a ghost,
and we wonder how
we could enlarge this effect
to sixty thousand cubic feet.

We gather flammables
and a thin bulb of taffeta,
experiment like boys launching
model rockets.            We misaim,
the atmosphere
for a free-for-all.
We laugh at collisions
or else shout               Come back!
                                        Come back!
while slamming our fists
at the sky.

We switch to sackcloth,
invest in rope after rope
of cordage.
We make it flashy:
splash it
with a rich shade of blue,
slap zodiac symbols
onto the side,
because we’re worthy
of joining                       the stars.

Of course, we’re not so smug
as to trust our craft
from the get-go.
We try smaller aeronauts
first:                               a duck,
                                         a rooster,
                                         a sheep
named “Climb-to-the-sky.”
Yes! Climb to the sky!
When they land, unscathed,
we hoist our own bodies
into the basket,
giddy                           with pride
                                      and terror.

We rise three thousand feet
above the city, watch the people
in the crowd shrink to identical
specks                          of awe.
The embers crackle,
the heat buoying us up
like a bubble,


a laundry ghost brought
to life.