Meanwhile, hot air rises.
And the two men held for twenty-one days in living conditions
than those in most high-security prisons
are not the victims
of some hard-line oppressive regime, or political refugees,
digging in on the side of rare toads and ancient trees,
or dumbstruck hostages,
or Western tourists kidnapped by gun-toting terrorists,
or moon-eyed murderers
on death row, or self-captivated Turner Prize exhibitionists,
but balloonists, actually,
jet-streaming the globe, riding the one, continuous corner
of the world's orb.
In a picnic basket swinging from a Bunsen burner
a tuppenny rain-hood filled with nothing but ether,
Messrs Piccard and Jones
hitched a ride on a current of air and lapped the equator
in less time than it takes the moon
to go through its snowball cycle of freezing and thawing.
Think of all the mental energy
and tax dollars pumped into that Stealth Bomber thing
with its invisible paint
and silent engines and non-reflective angles;
all that fuss
when all along we could have sided with the angels.
All we have to do,
apparently, is catch the breeze and hold our breath,
strike a match,
and watch the planet going round and round beneath.
All right, in practice
it wasn't a cake-walk. Stowed away within the microclimate
of the capsule
was at least one mosquito that drew blood from both pilot
And one of the two had to space-walk the outside of the canopy
snapping off icicles,
and not for Scotch on the rocks but as a matter of buoyancy.
Nevertheless, could those men
who emerged, stunned and smelly, who were hoping to land,
touchingly, in the lap
of the Sphinx rather than being dragged through sand
to the back of beyond;
could they be representative of some higher and finer ideal?
We could do worse,
couldn't we, than balloon? Could do worse than peel
the skin from the soul
and dither and drift in the miles of airspace between heaven
and Earth, could do worse
than quit the sink estates and the island tax-havens,
look down cartographically
on town and country, golf blight and deforestation,
the veins and arteries of roads,
the blood-clots of traffic lights and service stations.
Could do worse, surely,
than clink glasses, balloonist to balloonist, mid-air,
over invisible borders,
over East Timor, Rwanda, Eritrea,
catch the breeze
and exchange personal gifts as tokens of good fortune,
thrown basket to basket.
Forget flags on sticks, dolls in national costume.
We could do worse
than idle, unprotestingly, where jets might otherwise fly,
lounge on the flightpaths,
occupy no more than one balloons-worth of sky, and not be tied
to any plot of land.
We could do worse, could we not, than only cool and drop
for supplies and fuel,
scoop snow with bare hands from mountain tops,
make finger-tip friends
in passing, occasionally jump ship to have sex or make love
rise like thought bubbles without words into worlds above,
be aerial and detached
over Kosovo, Pristina, let the wind be the driving force,
let each bauble and blimp
be free and ethereal, find its own way, follow its own course,
could do worse
than tilt in the frozen light above the weather
and every night
be part of the solar system, blissfully clear-headed, whatever
the state of play on the ground.
Be quiet and listen. From up there in the gods
a person can hear
a nightjar winding its watch for morning, contented bullfrogs
farting and snoring.
Balloons, like kindly fat maiden aunts in their new frocks,
walking home from a wedding,
like the cows coming in, the sighting of slow, gentle yachts.
We could do worse
than hang around up there, thoughtful and vacant at once,
while all unstable elements lapse
to a steady state, while gaps and partitions are given the chance
to meet and mend,
While wounds heal, battlefields go to pot, weapons to rust.
Impossible of course,
but couldn't we just, couldn't we just?