When I was a little boy
I watched a balloon
wiggle itself free
and spiral upwards
towards where I thought might be Heaven.
I don’t recall the circumstance—
whether it was a birthday party
or the circus,
or the Fourth of July
or whether the balloon was red, green, or yellow.
I only remember watching it
get smaller and smaller
until finally it vanished
and all that was left
was monolithic blue sky.
Some balloons are inflated by jovial clowns
shaped into swords and crowns
and bequeathed to young princes.
Some balloons are filled from a garden spigot
and splattered on cousin’s head.
Some balloons are filled with cigarette breath
or booze breath
or irked or impatient breath
tied off with yellowed fingers
and passed off to a child in place of attention.
But none such balloons make their way up towards Heaven
they just wither like fish left on the shoreline
or pop unexpectedly and make adults edgy.
The balloons that sail skywards
(I know better now)
are packed full of helium–
a loner of a gas that refuses to burn
and is lighter than air.
Though the little boy is but a memory
At times I’ve still wondered
where such high flyers finally come to rest—
entangled in barbed wire?
twisted into transformers?
run over by jet liners full of businessmen bound for China?
in late August
I wander alone on the crest of the Sierras
between fingers of granite like white rows of tombstones
the last stands of white pines form dots far below.
The spring run off long silenced,
July’s famous wildflowers all gone to seed,
the grey tundra grasses practice their shivering
to the only tune playing—
a wind, brisk and steady.
I spy a run of pink ribbon
My eyes follow it as it spirals over broken rocks and lichen
until I reach one end tied to the nipple
of a dried white balloon.
I reach down to touch it
but it all falls to pieces—
flecks of pinks and white,
like feldspar and quartz.
I can never know its origins—
a family reunion in Yosemite Valley?
a quinceoñera in a yard in Modesto?
a huge blowout truck sale in a lot down in Fresno?
—only that it wiggled itself free
from whatever restrained it.
It wiggled itself free
and was once bound