“The Descent of the Germanwings” by Chera Hammons

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Chera Hammons


Musicians know how to write silence,
how to lay lines and measures across a white landscape,

to show where music is and where it can’t be,
where notes should swell and where they should rest.

If I were a musician I might write it this way:
empty measure after empty measure, then the cymbal left ringing out.

Everyone would know what I meant then.
But poetry doesn’t speak with silence the way music can.

It can give you images: the slow drop through a tent of cloud.
The way the land stretches forever in veins of rock and snow.

It can put spaces in between things to spread them out.
The baby’s cry hanging in the air, caught as in a photograph

with the same strange stillness as a horse caught mid-stride.
The metal glittering sharp as ice around the flanks of the Alps.

The fragments of bodies gathered and lifted out
of where they fell, as gently held as early asters,

or love letters smuggled through a war.
If I were a musician I could write it another way, too:

I could unroll the lines of the staff like a fence.
The notes would settle all over it like wrens.

Then they would sing, if they felt a song there.

Poets Respond
March 29, 2015

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Chera Hammons: “I think what strikes me most about this event is the difference between what we can see on the outside—the plane descending, the blur of engines, radio silence—and the panic occurring on the inside. The strangeness of the co-pilot’s breath on the flight recording during the entire descent, without a single word spoken. Also, the limits of words in the face of such a tragedy.”

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of a project in which poets respond to current events. A poem written within the last week about an event that occurred within the last week will appear every Sunday at Rattle.com. Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem, not its editorial position; any opinions expressed are solely those of the poet and do not necessarily reflect those of Rattle’s editors. To read poems from past weeks, visit the Poets Respond page. Interact on our Facebook group. To have a poem considered for next week’s posting, submit it here before midnight Friday PST.

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