A Single Flight

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Here’s a memory I can date:
We‘re still in the old house, and this must be
1961, and I’m eight,

Sitting on the front porch steps, alone.
Dusk. Dad has just now left.
In for a drink, maybe. Or the phone.

Overhead, aglow, a whispering jet:
An object gold and pink, catching a sun
That’s just now set.

Then—things come strangely undone.
So strange: a crowd above me (high, aloft)
Basking in a sun I cannot see.


How many times that year did I see
A plane plying the blue?
Dozens, surely; hundreds, probably;

And every single one has retreated
But this one… A sweet summer day unraveling
In Detroit, and I’m, age eight, seated

On the front porch steps, alone,
A yet-starless sky drifting blue to gray,
And I who’ve never flown

Somehow am airborne, borne anew.
What did the boy do today?
Not much—yet the imagination took wing.


Memory’s vagrancies, vacancies…
A hundred planes alit in a roofless dome
Alike roaring, fading by degrees,

One by one, till one’s left. Which still flies.
Those others? Folded into a sea
Of receding obscurities, capsized skies

From which all color drains,
Gray to near-black; black. Then the cold
Comes down, and but little remains

But the concrete porch steps of home,
And a single aircraft, enchantingly
Illuminated: pink, gold.


The boy loves boys’ books, books about
Those glorious explorers
(Cortez, Pizarro) who ventured out

In tiny ships for lands and seas
Bigger than anything anyone foresaw.
(Our world was one of their discoveries.)

And if his books hint at things just a bit unjust—
Cruel, maybe—in their race to colonize,
Years must pass for the boy to digest

Implications of the law
Of lance and cutlass and club, the horrors
At the dark heart of the enterprise.


Some voyages are poisoned from the start,
Wheresoever bound—lacking,
Like the conquistadors, purity of heart—

And nothing good can ensue.
…Not so my airship, whose pink-gold wings
Shimmer, triumphantly, through

A clear and cloudy realm above our own.
In time, the plane will stand for
The joy in any journeying into the unknown,

The rising impulse that declares, While things
Here may be fine, still we must go looking
For havens yet more fair.


In heaven’s name where were they off to?
Cleveland? Milwaukee? Faraway
Washington? I’ve often wondered who

Was aboard that night… Salesmen, each with a case
Of samples? A retired schoolteacher, playing
Hooky at last? A plumber; a piano tuner; a brace

Of grousing lawyers; a young soldier;
a reformed ex-con; a calmed child sleeping
On Grandpa’s bursitic shoulder;

A pair of wimpled nuns, praying;
A lover, reviewing a frayed billet-doux; a dove-gray-
Faced mourner, openly weeping?


Flying stories! Tales, details, endlessly
Spinning out, the flight but a chapter in an arcane,
Colossal novel destined never to see

Completion… Strangers, bound only in the one
Instance, a closed chamber of clouded gold,
Parting forever before day’s done,

Yet their lives will braid, and rebraid,
Like some multi-veined, vast
River threading an emerald delta splayed

Open like a fan—a prospect to behold
(Lucidity come for you at last)
From the round window of a plane.


Porch steps, sunset; a warm, gathering gloom.
Behind me, five lives: two parents plus the three
Brothers with whom I share my room.

Four boys, and all great ones for
Citing injustices, the way-too-many
Ways the other three are favored—so unfair.

Justice, sentencing… Most novels never get done,
And most lives are lost, yet the six of us go
On writing, without writing down,

The doings of one large family
In one small house—a chronicle richer than any
Book the boy I am will ever come to know.


The earth turns, equally overturns
Empires and families,
While a tiny aircraft burns

All but eternally,
Though once a cast-off spark;
The vagaries of memory

Compose a zigzag flight
Over the storehouse of our being
On whose concrete steps, under a light-

Show of etherealities,
We’re left to puzzle how we go on seeing
As the world grows dark.