Re-entry of the First American in Space

by Harry Man

Re-entry of the First American in Space

Flight of Mercury-Redstone 3, Callsign Freedom 7

Command Pilot: Alan B. Shepherd Jr

May 5th 1961


The poets were wrong:

the ocean is not unkillable,

the snow is not eternal.


The Earth turns in the depths

like a cat’s eye limned

by a distant headlight.


Then there’s this ionized,

candescent, compression of air,

a husk of oxygen and nitrogen.


The view from inside a marshmallow

in a camp fire, all blue and hot,

fizzing into plasma, circumzenithal.


Through the plumes,

black horizons, perfectly skyless

spinning above the afternoon,


glittering pack-ice clouds, below

or above these glass deltas of ocean

releaseless, frozen sleek,


at 17,000 miles per hour, tilting away

and back into the viewport,

the altimeter turning anti-clockwise


and your face pinches itself,

you reach against gravity for the drogue

handle, twisting it and a noise


like the crump of a burst tyre

behind your head, in the crosshairs

the jellyfish red and whites


of the main capsule parachute…

lurching against the straps.

Splashdown with no smell of salt


but foam – how it is, polystyrene

and car seats, and your own breath

in the helmet, with a tap-water plitter


that could be the heat shield, your ears

adjusting, or a ruptured seal,

the panel shows cabin pressure


is green. Zoopraxiascopic shadows—

Is it?

It is, helicopter blades, shuttering.


Over the clanks of the Atlantic

naming the sound of home,

“Thank you very much, it’s a beautiful day.”

© Harry Man