a theory of balloons

the little/ lame balloonman/ whistles
[in Just-], e.e. cummings


you say “existential”
to my 5-year-old grand-daughter
talking about the homeless man
wearing camouflage
& sitting cross-legged
by the highway


while waiting on our pizza
the balloon woman
makes her a butterfly
with pink wings
a yellow body
& a Sharpie® smiley face


she wears the balloon butterfly
on her tiny child’s arm
sitting in her car seat
worrying about her brother
popping the balloon
when she gets home


i tell her balloons & butterflies
are both beautiful colorful
frail & certain to die
so we should enjoy them
while we have the chance
& not worry about that


we try to soothe her
by saying we have pictures
of the butterfly balloon
that will last forever
but she says “except a video”
so you record her theory of balloons


balloons pop if there’s something spiky
then you cry & cry & then you get one later
i’ve got a balloon butterfly
& i’m never going to pop it
sometimes i’m going to pop it
& that’s okay i’m going to stop thinking about it


you tell her just to repress her feelings
& accept this is as part of life
that sometimes things break
just is what it is (we’re laughing)
no need to feel anything about it
& she says okay too seriously


she falls asleep as we drive
the balloon butterfly clinging
to her tiny child’s arm
too beautiful & terribly frail
i carry her in sleep-heavy in my arms
like a balloon or a butterfly

—P.L. Thomas

balloon butterfly sky