Espresso & Sandwiches in Space (a new poem)

Last year, I drafted a poem about one of my favorite Gemini anecdotes — astronaut John Young’s pastrami sandwich (procured by Wally Schirra, I believe) smuggled aboard Gemini III and shared briefly in zero gravity with Gus Grissom. The draft didn’t satisfy, though — it was missing (among other things) a “way in,” a reason to talk about the sandwich beyond an admiration of early astronaut shenanigans. This week’s SpaceX launch provided the traction I needed. Here’s the new poem. Hope you enjoy!

Progress, 2015

As the SpaceX resupply rocket blasts skyward,
carrying, among the tightly packed necessaries,
a specially-engineered, zero-g-rated, NASA-approved
espresso machine
to the International Space Station,
where, for four months, an Italian astronaut
has gamely choked down powdered coffee’s facsimile swill,
I think of John Young’s pastrami sandwich–
unapproved cargo, smuggled aboard
the first manned Gemini flight fifty years ago,
unwrapped briefly in orbit, shared with Gus Grissom,
then re-stowed after its weightless crumbs
threatened to infest the electronics,
leading to the required dressing-down from higher ups.

Fifty slim years stretch between
the contraband sandwich — bread broken
in cocky American jest by Cold War fighter jocks —
and this twenty-first century joint global venture
to bring properly-brewed espresso
to a crew of three Russians, two Americans,
and especially one Italian, also a fighter pilot,
running key experiments in her microgravity lab
all those long months without the aid
of the proper fuel.


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