A skinny, pony-legged thing
in canvas shoes and pig-tails,
she skips into the yard, then runs
to jump, jump, and skyward wave.
Her baby brother does the same.
She taught him: a childhood game
on Alabama’s red sand and yella clay.
They wave at silver wings,
at silver bellies, at the people
in the silver bodies whom they can’t see.
They wave to the passenger they
imagine who must even now look down
on them. Goodbye, Daddy,
they shout. Goodbye to their father
who is always leaving, and every plane
or contrail is their father’s flight
and a chance to say Bye-bye! Bye-bye,
a chance that he will see them and come back.
A few years later, in Nebraska then, at Pioneer Park,
A Negro Family Flying Box Kites, circa 1964–65.
The children hold cotton strings and run, run
downhill trying to launch frail paper into flight.
But they are poor engines, poor lures for fickle
winds, poor practitioners of a difficult art
made from balsa and paper, and pushing
through air with brown bodies as fast, fast
as they could go so that maybe … maybe
a brief lift, a shudder, til something unseen
snatches up their tender offering, a strength
that pulls the cotton taut, briefly, briefly,
before their minds can think: It’s flying,
or Higher, or Take us with you—then lets go.
But there was something in those plummets
and ceaseless falls, in their disappointment,
their father’s trying, trying, so that they never
went back to fly kites again. But maybe
the story errs. Or memory, though its strings
are so tightly held, turns, spins, and always falls.
Years later, she looks out a small window
into the kingdom of clouds, bulwarks,
fortresses, palaces of vapor.
She imagines walking over the cloudscape:
the still, the cold, the press of wind.
In Alabama, they are laying him down,
her father, digging his grave in red sand
and yellow clay. She didn’t go back.
But she imagines now his heart’s rupture,
his body falling. Turbulence,
the pilot says. If the cabin pressure drops,
apply your own mask first and then …
the safety bulletin reads. In Detroit,
she reboards. The plane takes
the runway, rises, banks into flight.
She wonders how they returned the body,
thinks of her father in his coffin-box.
On the way to Philly, she sits in the belly
of a silver plane, by a narrow window
looking down, looking back.
From that height the world reshapes itself,
green squares, brown squares,
the threads of rivers, grids of roads.
She knows he never saw them waving,
flinging their bodies up, up, as high
as they could, trying every time to reach him.
—from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tribute to Librarians
Janice N. Harrington (from the interview): “I loved being in libraries; I loved the silence and the quiet. My library at that time was the Bennett Martin Public Library in Lincoln. It was the one place where you could find this luscious quiet, and I gravitated towards that. Of course, it had books, and it had magazines in the basement. You could smell the old paper. It was a sensual experience. You could pull anything off the shelf; you could look at it, put it back; you could walk out of the library with it, and nobody stopped you.” (web)