Orbital Mechanics

By Nancy Scott

In the real library-annexed world, I’d be ready. My notebook would secure practiced Braille pages of exactly what I would read. I would be a bit nervous, though I’ve read my work for hundreds of audiences.

But this is Zoom. And I am “safe” at home. I can mute my landline phone to grab a glass of water, or I can take notes with a talking device. I can even change my mind suddenly in favor of a different poem from the book cabinet across the living room. Unlike most of the sighted people attending, I have no camera.

Zoom is a good platform. It can be accessed by computer, smart phone or not-so-smart landline. The only issues are the need for unlimited long distance and the ability to key in lengthy identification and password numbers.

Tonight, I listen to the April Stick Figures poetry group pre-reading chatter. I know many of the around-ten people in attendance from having read in-person. But I’m also listening to Soyuz hatch closing on NASA-TV.

I want to know that the International Space Station returning crew is safe. I’ve felt this way ever since I wasn’t yet home from shopping when Space Shuttle Columbia came apart. I’m old enough to have seen, and been fascinated by, the entire American crew space program.

My still-muted landline is in my right hand. No one on Zoom knows I am in the bedroom where the TV speaks.

I carry my selected Braille poem with me, wanting to be prepared when we start. It is an early pandemic poem about Good Friday services in a huge, nearly-empty church. I hold its two pages lazily by one corner.

I remember that I hadn’t closed the bedroom blinds. I lay the poem on the Fluffy which nests on top of the winter quilt. (It should be Pennsylvania spring by now, but it isn’t.) I turn the blinds to closed, reaching up to make sure. I need both hands.

NASA-TV Leah reminds of the times for later docking and de-orbit burn. I turn the television off and distractedly walk, empty-handed, back to the living room recliner, contemplating NASA coverage in two hours.

The host, Eva, chose me to read first, of course. Flying fingers confirm my poem is lost—not on my lap, not on the coffee table, nor not on the floor under the coffee table. It had been in my grasp mere seconds ago!

My frantic brain retraces… What was I doing? TV, blinds, ahhh…

I tell Eva to pick someone else to read first saying, “I’ve sort of lost the poem.”

In familiar territory, I run. The poem blamelessly waits. I grab it more roughly than Braille docs deserve and hurry back to my poetry position. I don’t hear the first reader orbiting outside my maneuver.

Eva then asks, “Nan, are you good now?”
She is surprised by my lack of readiness.

I sheepishly read second, not confessing weightless inattention. I might see the humor, or the lesson, in this later. For now, I try to sound like someone who hadn’t chosen a wrong trajectory—someone experienced and heading for perfect atmosphere and landing to read gravity’s lost and found.

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