Lost Balloon

Six inflated blue exam gloves bound together— utterly prophylactic, strangely sputnik— hands floating on a string, hanging in the cubicle’s sunny window at my last infusion. I’m sitting in the chair where I began six months ago, full of held breath, wondering what will happen when I am no longer tethered to an IV drip, to tinny dings of time’s up, to being woozy in some deep space that lies just beyond reach…

*

In 1988, in late spring, while waiting to hear the news of my father’s surgery for a dangerously large abdominal aneurysm, I found a message attached to a pale blue balloon caught in the fringe of cattails that grew along the perimeter of Buck Pond. With my five-month-old son riding my hip, I fished the balloon and its soggy postcard out of the reeds, while my four-year-old daughter hopped from one flat rock to another, singing a tune about Peter Pan, between episodes of wild coughing. Nothing could deter her. As soon as she regained her breath, she resumed her song—her shadow walking close beside her.

By the time we returned to my parents’ lake house, the soggy message had dried enough to reveal its words written in third grade cursive: Keep In Touch, along with a return address, which was close to Buffalo, NY. How many days did it take for the balloon to travel the distance from Orchard Park to Greece, NY? How many days did it wait for me to find it among the weeds? What did the children think when I sent the message back to them? I never heard. Only this good news: my father survived what should have killed him. His aneurysm¬, the size of a small orange, should have popped like a balloon, but didn’t.

*

If you dream of a single blue balloon, you desire peace. If over a lifetime you have received many blue balloons, you have known peace. If you have filled balloons with water, then you have known emotional outbursts—have kept close watch over shrieks of laughter that dissolved into sobs of anger. If your balloon suddenly pops, find another balloon, preferably green.

*

Whenever I see a loose balloon floating high on a current of wind, I think of the child left behind, who is either surprised by its quick escape, or inconsolable, watching it disappear over the stand of tall trees. All gone, the mother says to the child in her arms, and the child looks down at her open hands, and turns them over; then rubs them together and raising her palms to the sky. All gone, she says, all gone.

M. J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 29 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: https://mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

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