Brandel France de Bravo


Brandel France de Bravo’s poetry collection, Provenance, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize in 2008. She is co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World and the editor of Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices. Her poetry and essays have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Alaska Quarterly Review, the Bellingham Review, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, The Cincinnati Review, Fairy Tale Review, Gargoyle, The Kenyon Review, and Seneca Review. She has received the Larry Neal Writers’ prize and two artist fellowship grants from Washington, D.C.’s Commission on the Arts.

The Chemistry of Distance

“Someone asked me—what’s the use of a balloon?
I replied—what’s the use of a newborn baby?”
—Benjamin Franklin


The Polaroid, fossil within a fossil,
walk-on-the-moon wondrous, bygone
the way a hot air balloon will never be,
is of me: on my seventh birthday.

Nucleus in an atom of girls, face
upturned, I am beaming at party
balloons—translucent orbs of blue,
yellow, red, green—we’ve punched
and head-butted to the ceiling, forever
out of reach in the photo, our arms
permanently outstretched to catch.
How moving this square of stasis,
arbitrary reliquary that inspires
not devotion but revision, the power
to see again, through polychrome-tinted
latex glasses: crepe streamers, pony tails,
sugar rose dresses, smocking and tulle.

The instant in its corset glints black garnet
and jet, mourning jewelry in a velvet box.


In 1783 two brothers put a cloud
in a paper bag, and a rooster, a sheep,
and a duck, the world’s first aeronauts,
spent eight minutes aloft so I have
barnyard animals to thank for this
terror on my husband’s birthday
—you’re only sixty once—
the ride I’ve arranged as a surprise.
The pilot ignites the fire overhead,
louder than a thousand bubbling bongs,
the gaping lung inhales, holds it in,
and suddenly, we’re all high on the silence,
every sound—Gary, in the house! Now!
a dog barking, tires turning on gravel—
is a birth cry, reminding us the cord’s
been cut. The fleshy green folds, horses
like beauty marks, the countable trees…
As everything tender, transient that must be
protected by us, from us—firmament
as fontanel—recedes, fear kicks in
and I drop to my knees. What do I know

about Enduring Love? The book begins
indelibly with an organ-splattering accident,
and I am not “intrepid Pilâtre who never
loses his head,” first to fly and die
in a balloon. My husband and daughter,
Leo and Kate at the bow, hair whipping
behind them heroically, admire
the diorama below and laugh—their
love will go on—as I crouch on the floor
of the basket, praying, wiping away tears,
and cursing the chattering chaser on the other end
of the pilot’s cell phone, distracting him
from winds, power lines as he tries to guide
her car to wherever it is we might land.


I came down gradually, and I was not hurt a bit.
But I found myself in the midst of a strange people,
who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought
I was a great wizard. Of course, I let them think so…

As grown-ups, it isn’t Dorothy we feel for
but the balloonist from Omaha, the poseur
behind the screen even a small terrier
could topple. I can throw my voice, too.
Meet my dummies: wife, do-gooder,
poet (the pleasure is all mine), mother.
That day in the sky when my vaudeville
died, it was plain to see that all the emeralds
were only words, my only city.

Because distance is a chemical reaction…
Because adventure can be an aperture…
Because exposure must be calculated…

Was it the sky that brought me to light,
scratched my emulsion to reveal the white
of bluff? But that isn’t the instant I want
to frame. Instead, let it be this that rises
from the silty bottom, pulls into focus, dries
before our eyes, more nostalgic than paper,
silver, the Montgolfier, a brazier
or Pilâtre’s torn green topcoat:

The photo not taken of the family’s field,
chicken coop in a corner, the single mother
and two grown sons, one in camouflage,
and their lame Shepherd, who delivered us
from the sky, folded with us the thousand
square yards of nylon in rainbow stripes,
held our hands as we recited the balloonist’s
prayer, giving thanks for our safe return,
before the chaser fetched plastic cups
from the pick-up, and the pilot, holding the bottle
of champagne by its neck, launched the cork,
before it fell to earth in the effervescent dusk.

I really did spend much of the balloon ride on my knees, whimpering in fear, while my husband, daughter, the pilot and fourth passenger, who was over 300 pounds (I know because each of us had to announce our weight before take-off) and had waited her whole life for this day and repeatedly asked to go higher, please, higher, enjoyed the Shenandoah Valley from above. The poem is meant to fly over, brush against, and bumpily land on aging, pretense, fear, humility, and joy in grounded-ness.