The Kármán Line

“The thinner the air, the faster a plane must travel.” Images by Shambhavi Kaul, courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.

The thinner the air, the faster a plane must travel

In flight, airspeed is not calculated based on speed
relative to the ground. A plane can only stay in the
air if it travels forward constantly in relation to the air
it passes through

Because of this constant forward motion, the wings
are able to generate lift


The Kármán line is the altitude at which the earth
ends and space begins

It’s the edge of space, as opposed to “near space,”
which is the high-altitude region of the earth’s

This is of course distinct from the boundary of the
universe, or the observable universe

When we say altitude, we mean we’re thinking in
terms of the human, because we’re considering what
is measurable from us


The Kármán line is 100 km, or 62 miles, above the
earth at sea level

I could pull out my calculator and give this to you in
inches. I could tell you in French and that’s it

Beyond the Kármán line the earth’s altitude is too
thin to support an object in flight. A plane at that
height would have to travel faster than orbital
velocity to remain in the air

Really “air” because here, there is not sufficient air

Space begins as determined by math and the
practicality of actually being somewhere


I want write to the illiterate sky

I’ve lost my beloved and I don’t know where to find

Illiterate, after a line of poetry read out loud by
Meena Alexander: The heart is illiterate

No, I think, no. The heart is literate, it reads and
understands a thousand languages

              baby your song


I know deep down that some part of my big dumb
heart is illiterate. Like a proxy for a pop song, it can’t
read the signs

              baby your song
              it makes me want
              to roll my windows down
              and cruise


Two Westerns:

            baby your song

            my dead reckoning


Because of the difficulty in determining the exact
point at which the boundary occurs, there is still no
legal definition of the demarcation between a
country’s air space and outer space 

Below the Kármán line space belongs to each
country directly below it. Above the Kármán line,
space is considered free space

100 km is an accepted boundary between earth and
space for “many purposes”

I imagine a few purposes.

            i have my own

            Lunch hour  


I read that the amount of lift required of a plane at
any given point can be calculated by a lift equation.

What it takes for us to transport human mass from
A to B.

Two more Westerns:

              keep it simple

              angel face


L = ½ pv^2 SCL

where L
is the lift force

is the air density

is the aircraft’s speed relative to air
              i’m roped in

is the aircraft’s wing area
              point blank

is the lift coefficient
              he’s squaring it


Knowledge is a non-reciprocal relationship.

Known means something enters into a relationship
with someone or something else — even if the recipient,
the known, is undesiring of that

Even if the recipient, the known, whether person
or thing is unaware, does not know 

              is observed

This is salt, the taste of the passive voice in my
mouth is the taste



And space is populated and unknown


661. How might I be mistaken in my assumption
I was never on the moon?

662. If I were to say “I have never been on the
— but I may be mistaken,” that would
          be idiotic.

And yet I want to say in all certainty

I have never been on the moon

And leave my knowing open

To unreasonable doubt

To think at the limits 

Of what I already cite

Your pencil line

My hubris

I gave up the sauce

Drank cream

All that is Earth has once been sky;
Down from the sun of old she came,
Or from some star that travelled by
Too close to his entangling flame.[2]


I drove to Elephant Butte, a reservoir dam
in southern New Mexico built through an initiative
called the Rio Grande Project 

An imperative set in motion by the “Reclamation
Act” of 1902.

I thought art was something

I put quotes around words

To point to the scars language bears from its histories.


The town of Hot Springs abutting Elephant Butte
voted in 1950 to change its name to Truth or
Consequences, New Mexico.

An NBC radio quiz show announced it would air its
10th anniversary program from the first town that
changed its name to the name of the show.

I bled and puked all my broken intestines

And asked what’s the difference

Horizon and shore

Toes sunk in 


At the time of its construction, Elephant Butte was
the largest irrigation dam in history outside of the
Aswan Nile Dam in Egypt 

Next May the formal “opening” of the Elephant
Butte dam, the biggest irrigation project ever
undertaken by the Reclamation Service of the United
States, will be celebrated by all New Mexico and
Texas. President Wilson has signified his intention of
attending the ceremonies if possible[3]

Other projects in the same issue:

Yale’s New Stadium Seats 61,000
Twenty-Ton Rock Rolls into Passenger Trains


Novel Monument of Prince Bismark

I flipped the page 

I felt tired here and lonely

I wanted to look around myself

But kept looking up and out


[Elephant Butte] has been described as the ‘Rio
Grande bank account for Colorado, NM, Texas and
Mexico … the place where their water debits and
credits are counted and the place where the buck
stops in the midst of our periodic droughts, rising
population, agricultural demands, and unstable

The US government expected the dam would
become the property of local settlers once a water
tax paid back construction costs 

We can think of water as cash

Did you swim in the largest body of water

A tax

Did you swim near the power plant 

That swim will produce poetry in you

make you poet, disloyal

This place isn’t 
                                        naturally occurring
                                        of water

                                        in fissures

of electric


1. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty.

2. See C. S. Lewis, “The Meteorite.”

3. “Great Elephant Butte Dam Approaching Completion,” Popular Mechanics (January 1915): 12.

4. See Lucy Lippard, Undermining.