“Empty Souls” by Alexis Rotella

Alexis Rotella


Tibetan prayer flags
flap in the wind
no one to talk to

Why Tower Air? I ask as my husband packs a suitcase to get ready to attend his mother’s funeral.

Because it’s a bargain, he says.

Wouldn’t you rather fly a major carrier? 

I pull a card from my Tarot deck. Out of the 78 possibilities, it’s the Tower that shows up. Flames shoot from the top of a crumbling brick tower while a couple with shock imprinted on their faces falls through the air, crowns flying. There’s no soft landing in sight.

I plead with my husband to book with another airline, but he says he’ll be fine. I shouldn’t put such faith in divination.
As I entertain a couple of acquaintances, the phone rings. My husband’s voice sounds far away. 

dusk signals the jasmine to release its scent

I’m at Kennedy. We had to make an emergency landing. While flames shot from the engine, the pilot told us to put our heads in our laps and brace for impact. The silence was so thick, no one could make a sound. I took my wallet from my jacket, placed it in the seat pocket facing me, just in case my body couldn’t be identified. And then I saw a newspaper headline which seemed so vivid and real—son dies in plane crash after attending mother’s funeral. It was the most bizarre experience. I thought my life was over, that I’d never see you again. When we got off the plane, some people actually kissed the ground. Everyone is shaken including the pilot’s wife. It was her husband’s last flight before retirement.

While my guests stuff themselves on tacos and guacamole, I try to regain composure. Don’t sweat the small stuff, they tell me. Get over it. Move on. Come eat.

I want to throw them both out but instead I bite my tongue until it aches. I count the minutes until they’re out of my space.

the cat brings home a screech owl

I sense disappointment in my brother-in-law’s voice. Had there been a fatal accident, he’d inherit all of the mother’s estate. I so need to vent, but my next-door neighbor, who caught a blip about it on the news, is nonchalant.

During break in qi gong class, my husband tries to tell a classmate about the incident, but the instructor glares at him as if to say, keep your sad stories to yourself.

The taste 
of loneliness
evening meal

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Alexis Rotella: “My husband and I were living in Los Gatos, California, a few months when he flew a low-budget airline back east to attend his mother’s funeral. The reaction of dinner guests, a neighbor, my brother-in-law and qi gong teacher taught us how a near tragedy can bring unexpected reactions from others as well as an education in human nature.” (web)

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