The Epistemology of Balloons

by ...

Steve McOrmond


The boy trudging with his mother
along the windy street is little
and the bouquet of helium balloons
he’s sea-anchored to is very large
and cumbersome. Fine motor skills
are a work in progress. So far, most things
have wanted to stay put or else
to crash down with a satisfying thud, but these
bright orange balloons have minds
of their own; they twist and tug at his grip
on their strings – any moment they might
lift him into the air. The thought
produces a muddle of pleasure and terror
he’ll wait years to put a name to.
Anyone can guess what happens next, but
to the boy, it comes as a big surprise: The sky
took my balloons! Away they go, over the roofs
toward a blue gap between high-rises
and building cranes that angle
like giant pinball paddles. If they don’t
snag and go pop, they just might make it
all the way across the lake, coming down
in Buffalo or Rochester, but you wouldn’t
wish that on anyone or anything, not even
a balloon. Were the mother to speak,
her words would come out strange. Hold on
tight is a rule of thumb, but sometimes
a lighter touch is required. The boy’s
exaggerated gasp as good a response as any.
Once in a while (don’t count on it),
what has been taken is returned
to us. They’re huge! The snowflakes
that have just now begun lazily to fall.