AND PIGS MAY FLY
I’m boarding my flight home from the heartland,
overflowing with hope for humanity and grace of good
people I’ve met, when the red-cheeked man in front of me
tries to stuff his oversized duffel into an overhead bin.
Unremarkable in itself, except the crumpling resistance
he’s experiencing belongs to the couple beside me—
their garment bag with wedding clothes now being
squashed to the size of a shriveled carnation. Rather
than seek the nearly empty compartment next to theirs,
he removes the couple’s bag and hands it to them,
saying it sure would help him out. Incredulous, she lays
their wardrobe’s wrinkled remains under the seat in front of her.
Not as if this is a big flight either, where individual motives and
ordinary desperation can skulk in a stuffed tin turkey of nerves:
just a crop hopper between Columbus and Cleveland.
Airborne, I gaze at the farmers’ neat patchwork where once
Shawnee sat on bare ground expecting an apology
and got the opposite from Mad Anthony Wayne. What will
it take, I wonder—a heart attack, losing someone close—
to bring the minutiae miles below into focus, for him
to reach for his rip cord and realize he’s chute-less
with the ground coming up fast.
“I’m just lookin’ at gate numbers to see where I gotta go,”
he announces to no one in particular as we taxi to the terminal,
as if his were the sole connection, our reason for traveling—
to keep him company and his airfare low, smile at his impunity
the way one regards a basket of severed hands of Congolese
rubber slaves. I unbuckle and haul my own carry-on out
from under his seat, the dry aftertaste of contrition like salted
nuts on my silent tongue. Why didn’t I speak up? I could have
said something, or from my vantage plagued him for forty-five
minutes, imitating with the tip of my pen a reconnoitering fly
landing on the white heliport of his head. At the very least
I could have winked—a mute solidarity for the woman
next to me and her husband who, seconds before the cabin
door opens, whips out a Playboy and begins reading.
—from Rattle #20, Winter 2003