“The Lift Equation” by Alicia Cole

“ProSEDS was…designed to utilize the tether-generated current to provide limited spacecraft power.  It is intended that this information will be of use for future tether mission and experiment designers.” – NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center


The alchemy of aeronautics, as precise

as wheels. My mother holds the seal

between her teeth, bites down like a horse

champing. Here, the lab full of pulley

and release: silver poured, scraped down

and pressurized. My mother folds

a scrap of solar sail; the rope, uncoiling,

snaps taught in the hands of a sailor

rowing to a vast, strange sea. Already

the road is magnificent. Already my mother

looks back, draws one hand sharply to

release the ship. Paper, it genuflects,

refolds, breathes space into the infinite

elements, turns nickel into gold.


After: funding is cut.


Tethered taut, my mother’s heart bundles.

Her findings packed, experiments whittled

down, many days past propulsion. The

popularity of science waxes and wanes.

Here: data passed delicately, a softly

breathing child. Now: gardening,

trajectories of space stations on the horizon,

granddaughters. Though waiting grows

interminable, her name rattles through the

textbooks, darkness on my mother’s face.


Time: onward.


There is a door opening. There is a

woman/man/child, a shoulder thrusting.

At the breathing entrance of space, the

explorer pauses, wiggles a booted foot

over the frigid maw of stars. When

she/he/it dives, movement from the

raised arms make a measurable arc. Light

sparks at each hinge of the waist. And

star ships, tethering sails toward the sun,

drift like languid otters on a stellar sea.

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