The Last Cosmonaut image

The Last Cosmonaut (Christmas)


When Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev finally gets back down to Earth next
month – after spending seven months longer than he’d planned in space –
he may well want to crawl back into his spacecraft.

He took off May 18 from the Soviet Union’s sprawling Baikonur
Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Twelve days before he was scheduled to return
came the coup that set in motion the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The space program got caught in the ensuing political turmoil. Once-lavish
funds were withheld. Mr. Krikalev, whose flight was the subject of a page-
one Wall Street Journal article, was pressured to stay up longer to save money
on transport cost.

The country he blasted off from doesn’t exist anymore. His hometown,
Leningrad, has a new name. Space engineers are threatening to strike. Even
the agency that sent him into space has been broken up.

The Wall Street Journal
10 February 1992

The Cosmonaut is alone. On earth it is Christmas Eve.

is anybody there?” Into my can-on-a-string
I whisper, “This will be my last report.
It will be like a brilliant sermon in an empty church.

“On earth you wake and the name of the world is Christmas.
Up here at my porthole I can but study
the sun like a dime-sized portion of the sky;
like a stone oven in its calm, sad roil of heat.
Up here the moon shows a face like a slice of chaos.
The way to know the world is not from 200 miles.

“Astronauts embark on spiritual voyages,
they fly to see meteorites directly puffing
on the moon, they land on its ulcerated face.
They pose, in the irradiated stillness, for
the “Standin’-on-the-ladder, Lookin’-at-the-stars" shot.
The mirrored bowls of their helmets do not show
their wide, regarding smiles. Under the whelm of the view
they become religionists. In the reduce
of gravity they jump like toxic kangaroos.
They unwrap themselves to lunar dust and they don’t care.
But the way to know the world is not from 200,000 miles.

“As the gravity of earth is so strong we fly to it,
so this need to engage life in some primary way.
Finally the human fascination is with each other.
This is why we mourn each other when we die.
Why finally what remains is respect, for ourselves and others.
Myself, I grow vacant before the miracle,
I grow silent before the sovereignty within.

“And I will choose the ride that only I can make.
I choose return, the deep return to earth,
to me the altogether beautiful.
Like the giant clam I’ve only got one move
but it’s a good one. I will push the joystick forward.
In this, the acceptable year of our Lord,
I will do the Christmas override.
I will be the promise of Christmas come.

“As the tip of the plow catches the shroud of sod
and begins its work, so this pod
will homestead earth’s freemantle air.
As an elevator in its infinite wisdom
shuts its doors and drops, so this capsule
will plummet and will scare the damn out of me entire.
As an oven you open to an ebullience of heat
so this capsule like a flame-chosen steak,
like a hamburger on a grill, will knit with heat.
Till words won’t hold the weight of it this pod,
with me within, will break into flame like a final poem.

“And it may be, on the flaxen slab of Arabia,
a shepherd will point with his crook and cry The Star! From

“And it may be, a mendicant in European woods
will look up from his mumble of misericord
and whisper Christ! Comes the child on his ridden ray!

“And it may be a rabbi by the Red Sea’s birth canal
will ask Shapely Spirit, is it you? The one foretold?

“And it may be, all over America, children looking
for Santa sign, checking the roof for reindeer scat,
will shout He’s here! The fat man with our toys!

“It may be the capsule will come down as fully deployed
and ineffective as a shredded parachute.
Like a fire hose unheld by firemen, like a bird
with four wings, trying to fly. It may come crashing
like a load of angle iron from the sky,
like a shower of insupportable debris,
to cartwheel in a cornfield, the nose cone
70 miles away. And I may come down,
all beef and brains, looking like where the sauce
hit the spaghetti. I will be dead and then some.

Or  it may be I will plane as much as I plummet,
soar as much as I sink. In a long day’s journey
into Horse Sense, into Public Transportation
I will contrail the world at seven altitudes.
Descending in a flattening urgency,
executing long slow dodges to starboard, to port
I will brody the broad reaches of thunderhead,
I will thunder storm. Behind the capsule window,
the wind of Doolittle: strong enough to unsteady
a mountain, the drama of descending in snow.
At a thousand unrescued feet the Krumfpod Landing System
will deploy: Down scream the wheels, the flaps and the mud flaps.
As landing is a reach for stability in a moment
of instability, I will give the oops, followed by impact.
A snuff of smoke from the tires as it touches down,
and the capsule will hold the road so pretty-good,
will roll to a stop on a snowy interstate.
A bring as the screws unseat from the flux of the nuts,
and I will emerge from my lunar cocoon.

“Under an earthbound moon a farmhouse, far
afield, twinkles with lights of its own.

“I begin to hum the angle-iron blues.
I begin to walk in parliamentary shoes.
In the gigantic East I can just discern
the imminence of the radiance to come."

John Barr / from Opcit at Large

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