Early in her third-grade year, my daughter came home chatty about Magic E’s might, the incredibly tasty Italian salad dressing at lunch, and that her teacher jumped out of airplanes. What, she wondered, would that be like? She had never considered this a human possibility. In a poem, she wrote, I want to fly.
At 2:30 a.m. on a rainy night, I woke the girls and drove that familiar way to Burlington I’ve traversed so often, passing through small towns where houses were dark save for a single outside light beside the front door. A store clerk leaned against the door of Morrisville’s Cumberland Farms, smoking a cigarette, the empty parking lot illuminated. That day, we flew from Vermont’s wooded green, high over the upper midwest’s great lakes, and the enormous plains of the country’s middle. At the end of our journey, the pilot tipped the wings, and we began what always seemed to me a long and gradual descent over the northern New Mexican desert, the red and black-lava mesa land slowly rubbing into focus – pinion trees, houses, the wash of dry arroyos, the blue Sandia Mountains rising mysteriously in this open landscape.
My child pressed her face against the small window. Of everything in that day, what she loved most was lift-off, that graceful moment when the boundary between earth and sky is crossed, and, Icarus-like, she entered the realm of birds.
“Flying at Night”
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.