Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.

C.M. Mayo < Publications < Poetry <


First published in BorderSenses, and included in the anthology edited by Robert L. Giron, Poetic Voices Without Borders 2 (Gival Press, 2009). Despite its title after the famed Man High Project the poem describes one of Captain Kittinger's later parachute jumps, part of the Excelsior Project. This poem was awarded the Washington Independent Writers Prize for Best Poem 2005.

The Air Force needed to know whether crew members could parachute safely from disabled aircraft flying in the stratosphere.... A young test pilot, Capt. Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., was one of those selected to train for experiments under USAF's Project Man High... Aug. 16, 1960 was set for the ultimate test. Kittinger rode a four-and-a-half foot open gondola to 102,800 feet...
— Air Force Magazine

The big drop is the only way home.
— Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, USAF, National Geographic


When you see our earth from an hour and a half on high
where it is a soul-chilling 94 degrees below zero Farenheit
you know it in your hummingbird-heart
that there are angels
Because when you
xxxnow bathed in this rawest of sunlight
xxxand the trumpet-blast of
You who have mastered yourself
by neatly garroting every mingy cringing fear
You who (as you will tell the press) have confidence in your team
xxxconfidence in your equipment
xxxconfidence in yourself
xxxconfidence in God
step off the balloon's gondola
arms splayed as if they were wings
You are one

Gazing down upon the swirled froth
that is cloud-cover
your back to the velvet canopy of blackness
and the stars
though strangely you cannot see them
they are indeed watching in their eternal sparkling silence
that knows every breath
and every intention that must form the future
You fall like a

You have not one inch of bare skin
you are swaddled in insulation and zipped into a pressurized

You must free-fall for twelve of these fourteen miles or
you will freeze
to death

Suddenly you flip and face the heavens
like a babe on his back in a crib
you are in the light but what you see is blackest night
no stars
your balloon a moth-speck of white

Now you gasp for the air that is not there
no pressure
feet-first now you plunge
650 to 700 miles per hour and

The clouds loom up solid as a floor
like a spirit you pass into it
this breath inside of time
and here
like the finger of Apollo
your barometric device clicks
and your parachute blooms
the cage tight around your chest hauls you back
where you are not welcome to stay
xxxhowever staring your courage
xxxhowever steeled your indifference
xxxhowever much we all dream of it

And you float down now
strange petal
xxxxxxwhere the wind
shoves you
A kind of tail-less helmeted primate
wearing waffle-weave underwear
strapped into a fifty-seven pound contraption
Feeling the awful aliveness of your body
that roaring pain in your blood-swollen right hand
that strap tugging over your crotch
in your belly pushing like a brick into your lungs is
your breakfast
Orange juice and strawberry shortcake

A clearness now: the world's spectacles wiped clean:
our gray-blue world
The sweet warmth of earth pulls you
to its scarred hide
bleached with the mottle of the ancient sea's sand
xxxwhite as salt
xxxwhite as the clouds far above
xxxwhite as all the stars melted together

Thirteen minutes and forty-five seconds have elapsed since bail-out
when you hear
xxxxxxthe thud
of yourself
and you fall to your knees into white sand
and your chute
xxxxxxlike the last silken exhalation of the heavens
falls on you