Nothing truly could prepare us
For the queerness of the historic home—
A wee alpine chalet built into a cliff near
The palace in Petrópolis.[1]

Paris and Petrópolis know
Kitty Hawk’s pronouncement was wrong not (W)right!
Alberto flew the original plane with wheels
And the Tour D’Eiffel viewed the show![2]

Shown by an effusive tour guide,
We marveled at the first hot shower
(In all of Brazil!) We asked why there’s no kitchen—
A hotel delivered meals inside!

Outside, the stairs deserve applause—
Designed for one foot at a time, right first.
To save space–a single bed atop a cabinet.
We queried did he have a spouse?

Espousing that aviation
Will bring all the world together in peace—
The gay inventor’s[3] aspirations crashed when planes
Were enlisted by warring nations.[4]

 

Notes

[1] I attended the Museum alone, in March 2013. I changed this poem to first person plural in order to abide by the rhyme (or near rhyme) scheme (ABCA). Yet when I am travelling by myself, I often imagine my spouse’s responses to my encounters with place and route, thus the voice in the poem is not entirely fictional.

[2] According to many historians of aviation—especially those from Brazil–the Wright Brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk in 1903 was not the first true airplane flight. Their flying machine did not have wheels and used a launching rail unlike Santos Dumont’s airplane that took off and flew in a field just outside Paris in 1906. Also, as the Kitty Hawk event happened in isolation and the Santos Dumont flight was a spectacle in a major capital city, most of the world celebrated Santos Dumont as the first person to create and fly a plane. Santos Dumont also plays a major role in horological history—he asked his friend Alfred Cartier to create the first wristwatch so that he wouldn’t have to retrieve a pocket watch while flying.

[3] Many writers and historians, perhaps most recently the Dutch novelist Arthur Japin in De gevleugelde: roman (2015), assume that Alberto Santos-Dumont was gay. Certainly all biographers note his “flamboyance” and “flair”—loud words that whisper male homosexuality.

[4] Alberto Santos-Dumont suffered from depression later in this life, aggravated by how his invention was used in WWI and then later in 1932 during the Paulista War (also called the Constitutionalist Revolution) within Brazil. He committed suicide in July of that year. The opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio paid tribute to “The Flying Poet.” Though I resist the patriarchal nomenclature O Pai da Aviação (The Father of Aviation)—no doubt we should all snap our fingers in tribute to Senhor Santos-Dumont when we board our flights…and remember his hope for peace.

 

Edward Miller

Edward Miller

Edward D. Miller is Professor of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island and on the faculty of the programs in Theatre and Film at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His creative works appear in Counterexample Poetics, Hinchas de Poesia, Wilderness House Literary Journal, The Boston Literary Magazine, Crack the Spine, Red Fez, Drunk Monkeys, Bloodstone Review, Handsy, and The Bangalore Review. 

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