Late September morning,
and a chill in the Edinburgh air,
but the gathering crowds are warm
with wonder, and the ladies feverish
for the hot-blooded adventurer –
the man who knows how to fly.
Thirty bottles of oil of vitriol
into a vat of iron filings, and the limp
sack of silk expands and hardens,
until the sky is circus-striped
and roaring like a lion.
They ascend to a fanfare:
a man, a dog, a cat, and a pigeon
in its balloon-shaped cage.
The dignitaries hold forth
on progress, science, things to come.
The ladies hold on tight to their
Lunardi bonnets, puffed and almost
weightless with the thought of flight.
Forty-six miles floating across farms,
and gardens, and then the Firth of Forth.
Inchkeith, Inchcolm, the Isle of May,
seen for the first time
through the eyes of gulls, of gannets.
Two row boats far below,
the dashing of their oars
circling silver, over and over
everything slowed to the pace
of separation, of being above.
A lone farmhand in a field –
the only witness to this
the Last Days come sudden
in a cloud of pink silk,
and the Angel of Death in
powdered wig, stumbling
across the muddy furrows.
Beverley Casebow is a poet and Poetry School student.
‘This poem was written in response to an assignment on the recent online course, Retropoetics, tutored by Rebecca Watts. We were invited to find a detail from an historical account which piqued our interest, and then to research it in more depth, and to create a poetic exploration. Vincent Lunardi was one of the first-ever balloonists, and made a flight from Edinburgh in September 1785, just two years after the first-ever balloon flight made by the Montgolfier brothers in France. He landed near the small village of Ceres, Fife. Lunardi, an Italian, was suave and dashing, and much-loved by the ladies. His flights drew huge crowds, and spawned a fashion for Lunardi bonnets, skirts, and garters. The details of his flight across the Firth of Forth were a gift. I have redrafted the poem based on helpful comments from other students on the course, and from Rebecca.’