(work in progress)
Exuberance, a poetic sequence set in the earliest years of aviation, explores everyday risk and extraordinary exuberance. Pilots Lincoln Beachey, Blanche Stuart Scott, Harriet Quimby, Ormer Locklear, Clyde Pangborn, and Bessie Coleman fly at carnival altitudes, hitting the highs and lows of daredevil performers. They engage a chorus of promoters, parachute jumpers, and fans, all wondering how the spectacular experience of being able to move through the air will transform life on the ground. The action begins at the first air meet at Dominguez Field in 1910 and closes with the end of the Gates Flying Circus at Teterboro Airport in 1928. Events occur in cities across the American landscape including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston, as well as in small towns like Hammondsport, New York, Maben, Mississippi, and Waxahachie, Texas.
Selections from the book have been published in Poetry, Ecotone, These Fifty States, and Raritan:
Exuberance sips bootleg gin from a garter flask
with a ruby monogram, “E.”
She wears a red dress one size too small,
flirts with everyone,
dares Lincoln Beachey to run his tank dry,
ride a dead stick all the way down.
She watches Ormer Locklear climb
out of the cockpit two hundred feet up,
tap dance on his upper wing
as the houses of honest families
with their square-fenced yards
slide below his shuffle. An oval pond
winks in the sun, like a zero.
Exuberance challenges Clyde Pangborn
to master the Falling Leaf, ignore
the Graveyard Spiral, the Doom Loop.
Aviators predict every American will fly,
Exuberance believes Everybody Ought
to Be Rich, John J. Raskob explains why
in the Ladies Home Journal. She gets stock tips
from her manicurist, call loans from her broker,
buys Radio, Seaboard Utilities, Sears,
orders shares in investment trusts—why not?—
chain stores keep multiplying, cars, trucks,
planes, houses. This nation is all about growth,
growth and leverage, look at the skyscrapers shooting up,
men rivet steel, floor after floor, high speed elevators
spring through the cores, planes soar over them all.
Sherman Fairchild has made a million
selling aerial photographs of real estate.
Exuberance travels constantly, owns land
in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Palm Beach,
she trades binders on lots five times over,
befriends Mr. Charles Ponzi from Boston
who is raking in a bundle near Jacksonville.
Prices for sand and palms are sure to rise,
Glenn Curtiss has bought two hundred thousand acres
in Dade County, he’s building towns.
But how do we know when irrational exuberance
has unduly escalated asset values?
Wall Street is wing walking,
soon the bankers and the brokers
will borrow the aviators’ lexicon,
claim their own tail risks, graveyard spirals,
graph their own doomsday cycles,
wonder how everything blue-sky stayed up so long.
Exuberance buys more stock on margin,
volume runs high, the ticker tape
can’t keep up, higher, higher.
First published in Poetry.