When Sophie Blanchard cleared Tivoli Gardens,
she did not think of cloaks, umbrellas,
ball gowns wrought from taffeta. Instead,
she studied glow above wicker cradle.
She would not lull herself to sleep this evening,
but listened to the crowd’s reverberation.
Its call of flightless birds. Its clap of thunder.
When Jean Pierre died, she’d not succumbed
to penury, nor thrown herself in water. She’d
renounced ground. At Turin: awoke to nose-
bleed. Above Vincennes: outbucked hailstorm.
Beneath satin scrim, Sophie, lit by Bengal
fire, out-gleamed opera. Until Tivoli, 1819,
Sophie flitted behind cloud cover. A Blue Fairy
unmisted other side. Then, taffeta leaked.
Starlight caught air inflammable, and balloon
turned chandelier. Sophie, tangled in lines,
fell. Vertebrae snapped. Flung from night’s
ballroom, Sophie did not brood. She could
not dance—and, yet, she flew.
* * * * *
This poem is one in a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.
BLANCHARD, MARIE MADELEINE SOPHIE (ARMAND) SI Neg. 2002-20292. Date: na...Photo of unknown artist’s rendition on a poster of Marie Madeleine Sophie (Armand) Blanchard’s balloon ascension in Milan, Italy, Aug. 15, 1811. Blanchard became France’s 1st female professional balloonist in order to continue her husband’s ballooning legacy…Credit: unknown (Smithsonian Institution)