Thursday Poems: Questions In The Air & Falling

Hello from Turkey!

My trip thus far has not been as productive as I’d like, it’s been far too disruptive for that, and I’ve realised that as beautiful as this country is and as much as I love having seen my family here in their element, it cannot house me comfortably for the months in which I want to write. So, I’m going to fly again, this time to New York, there to spend my all in living, loving, writing.

In thinking of flying, however, I remembered that I haven’t been totally unproductive. On the flight from Dubai to Istanbul, at over 30,000 ft in the air, terrified for my life as I always am at any great height, I began to write a poem. A poem about falling. A poem about plane crashes.

I have never been so scared, ever, as at that moment. It is, I think, the most courageous thing I’ve ever done – to face my fear so directly. I almost felt as if by doing so, I was inviting the world to strike me down for my hubris, for nothing more than poetic synchronicity. And so today, I think I’ll stretch that hubris just a little further, and share what I wrote.

Questions in the Air

Think of those who fell;
were they white-knuckled
with fear, wondering if
the buoyant sky could hold them
long enough, or were they cheery
like this little girl dressed in pink
peeking over her chair at me?
She doesn’t know enough
to be afraid & I envy that absence,
that joyful trust-by-default in the world.
The plane shudders now
as if it can feel the ghost fingers
of the dead clutching at it,
or else my questions picking at
the spit-welded iron and steel holding us
afloat
so unnaturally among the papyrus clouds
which scatter in our wake, torn
like an old bride’s wedding train
come apart at last.
Think of those who fell,
even as you rise in God’s kingdom
of nothing; were they watching
a film, an episode, or the sky outside
with its endless blue curve,
its sourceless ocean of light, or
did they have their heads in a book,
lost to this world already?
Did they sleep even as the engines failed,
oblivious as the tube cracked open
like an egg, to drip its yolk into the upturned hands
of the world, onto the heads of strangers below?
Most strangely of all, did they perhaps
write a poem like this one,
doomed to never bless the page?
Did they fall, limbs akimbo,
graceful in descent as never in life,
a mad pirouette in sunlight,
thinking, even then, of the last line
before impact?
Did they trace their words in the air?
These questions shadow-flock the sky,
buffet me from every side, and I have no answer
except this: I may not be able to trust
in machines, in the intangible otherness
of invention, but I can look
at this little girl’s flushed skin,
her ripe berry bright eyes,
and feel the unassailable conviction
coursing through her blood,
the sharp edges of her joy.
She stands on her seat, looming
above us crouched men
and for a single lasting moment,
I’m no longer afraid, no longer
a man, just another poet
adrift on the wind.

*

I could leave it there, of course, but this week I also read this fabulous article in the Atlantic with Stephen King, who references James Dickey’s long poem ‘Falling’. It was too great a coincidence to pass up, so I read it, and it was absolutely wonderful. So absorbing, so wide-reaching, a poem that takes a single moment and through it expands to consider the universe and our place in it, our mortality, and identity. It does so with rich, evocative language and looping themes of life, water, the moon, and country. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

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