This week is the 26th anniversary of NASA’s Challenger disaster, which took the lives of New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe and her astronaut companions. Today’s haunting poem describes their ill-fated journey and the technological culture that failed them.  

What Positions Do They and We Assume In the Encapsulated Stillness?

By John Tagliabue


somewhere in a capsule deep in the sea

off the Florida coast

seven visitors to the earth who planned to

visit outer space

lie dead with their advanced technological gadgets

and once active

mysterious eyes, all kinds of scientists and many

argumentative committees

discuss in details the possible causes of the Challenger’s

explosion, flaming

demise into fish-wandering seas. Octopus nearby,

and dead sea captains,

ships like old cultures gone to the bottom. The many

slightly alive

statisticians argue and probe and computers they think

are at their advanced

command. How silent they are, the sky dreamers, those

children in the womb

of the metal.


Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 1997 by John Tagliabue. Reprinted from “New and Selected Poems: 1942-1997,” National Poetry Foundation Press, 1997, by permission of the estate of John Tagliabue. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to David Turner, Special Assistant to the Maine Poet Laureate, at [email protected] or 228-8263.