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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

JANUARY 28, 1986

by Bonnie Proudfoot

All morning we waited, the January air frigid and clear, 

"Come see," I said, pointing at the tv. You settled your 

not-quite 3-year-old body beside me on the corduroy couch, 

my belly swelling with your little brother not yet born.

You were my playmate, usually you told me who to be, 

sometimes you were Robin Hood and I was Maid Marian, 

mostly we were Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, 

but that day I called you the first spaceman, John Glenn, 

I was the first space woman, Christa McAuliffe, I pronounced, 

my teacher heart swelling, and then, you were leading me 

by the hand, into the capsule, we were waving to school children 

gathered to see the launch and even Tom Brokaw seemed 

to have his heart on his sleeve when he introduced 

mission control for the countdown, the lift off. 


On our couch from a mountaintop in West Virginia, 

surrounded only by the universe, we could almost see 

the Challenger capsule heading to that place beyond the sky, 

except, a jagged fork, that looked wrong, and then 

the waving stopped, hands covered mouths, children stood

in silence, and you looked up at me for answers 

I did not have. I'm sorry, I wanted to say. I'm sorry 

I called you over to watch with me, that you had 

to see this. Again and again, the tv replayed the lift off, 

as if, if they showed us once more, it would go differently. 


But no, the small streak of light, the speck of fire. Sometimes it takes 

so long to figure out what I want to tell you, even longer to know 

which words to use, and now, 35 years later, deep-sea divers find 

sets of Challenger tiles on the ocean floor, like pennies dropped 

into an infinite well. Oh, my boy, now man, now father, 

sometimes what you long for will disappoint you, and sometimes 

what you love will rise because of your love, and you'll rise too. 

All afternoon, on our little speck of earth, death walked 

beside us, his index finger waggling, a broken branch, 

and we did the only thing we could, we walked down the lane, 

gathered warm eggs from the hens, picked up limbs the wind

had flung onto the road, all eyes scanning the empty sky for signs

Bonnie Proudfoot has published fiction, poetry and essays. Her first novel Goshen Road (Swallow Press, 2020) was selected by the Women’s National Book Association for Great Group Reads, was long-listed for the PEN/ Hemingway Award, and received the WCONA Book of the Year Award. Her poetry chapbook Household Gods was published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in 2022. She lives in Athens, Ohio, and in her spare time she creates glass art and plays blues harmonica.