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At the Terminal

ISSUE:  Spring 1983

I have to change planes here, but I’m afraid
to fly again. We hit a downdraft over
the Rockies, plunging us a thousand feet
before we leveled out. Everyone screamed—
as if we had one voice that followed us
to testify what happened at the end.
All I could think was that we must be falling

faster than the speed of sound—nothing
about myself was in my mind. Death seemed
impersonal; I didn’t feel embarrassed
when I wet my dress. The reason I
sat here by you with all these empty seats,
is I mistook you for mom’s doctor who
delivered me and cared for us since I
was born. The likeness is remarkable,
although you’re younger by ten years: you have
his sapphire eyes, his bony hands. My ears
throb like a gasping fish washed on the beach;
I’ll cover them when the next plane takes off—
or else I’ll hear that scream. See what I mean?
Only a smoky wind was in my mind,
as if I’d never lived my life, as if
my father never said “We’ll miss you” when
we kissed goodbye. There should have been pictures
with golden frames so I could think the times
I watched the sunrise with my brother from
our tree house by the lake, hearing plink sounds
of leaping perch—plucked strings of a guitar;
or past my bed-hour, with mom scolding him,
dad led me to the “hooting grove” where owls
called out across the restless dark, responding
to their echoes or their mates. We’d try
to pick the call that started the replies,
but never could be sure. There always seemed
to be a first before the first we heard.
“That’s “concourse wild of jocund din” for you!”
dad would exclaim. I still can hear his voice
exactly, for I knew his words were not
meant to be understood. I should have thought
of them beneath the scream—dad’s moonlit teeth,
and wooing owl calls pleading in the night
their soothing, melancholy sound. My mind
was empty as the plane plunged down, and now
I feel I’m listening to someone else—

maybe it’s mother’s voice—talking to you,
although your stare tells me I’m beautiful.
Mom said that all men fall in love with women
they have rescued, since men suffer from
some barrenness themselves they need to cure.
I think you’re thinking that you’d like to spend
the night with me, and that I’d whisper little
owl songs in your ear, reminding you
of someone you once loved. These hollow noises
dizzy me—these voices gathering
with each departing plane. Why do they call
such places terminals? Nothing ends here!
We’re only passing through. I see your wife
waiting for you at home: she’s peeling apples
in the sink, watching the emerald
her mother gave her when she turned sixteen,
as gold flecks on the apple skin recall
your eyes. She turns the faucet on and hears
the distant voice of someone she might marry
if your plane should crash, blushes, and then
returns to who she is, the naked apple
shining in her hand, not knowing that
beneath the long, pursuing scream, your last
framed picture was me talking to you here.



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