"Flying Home" by Naomi VanDoren: dedicated to victims of recent airplane crashes in Papua New Guinea.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Celeste Helene Schantz
In the time it takes to make toast
two hundred ninety eight people will plummet
from the clouds into farm fields near Grabovo.
There are looters, locals scavenging wallets, cellphones.
Perhaps they’ll see a razor in the long midsummer grass. White slippers.
A baby blanket caught on a sharp metal pole.
The farmers watch clumps of cinder rain down onto cabbages;
ashes catching in the burnished teeth of sunflowers.
Local men band together, remarking
that their dogs are barking
and the air smells bitter.
In all these scorched remains, in this pilfered rubble
caught in wheat chaff, the delicate, acrid webs of Queen Anne’s Lace,
is a punctured wing; fragments of corkscrewed fuselage in a tree,
the flight recorder. We note the time, altitude, cabin pressure
and final velocity; retrieving data from each memory chip,
unravelling magnetic tape
we strain to hear bluelight echoes
of the cockpit voices of the dead.
We’ll strain to be assured that no one suffered.
That it happened so quickly they must’ve all gone to sleep.
We carry on with our day, our week, our lives, still somewhere
in this absurd terrain of the mind we’ll keep on probing
under an amygdalin sun. Rummaging in clumsy, protective suits
we analyze the data of old dreams; consult charred guidebooks,
trace our synaptic retrograde in the vapor trails of afterdeath
and scattered entropy. We excavate the crash site
to seek just one device, a mythic beacon, a spool,
some low, gritty transmission of unencrypted code—
anything to help us find a clue; to fathom
how human beings can do this to each other.
We search to find an answer, would search for it again;
yet in the end, each time we’ll turn away,
afraid we may have found it.
Celeste Helene Schantz was a finalist in the Cultural Center of Cape Cod's poetry competition, judged by Naomi Shihab Nye. She was also a finalist in a contest sponsored by Poetry International Rotterdam. In June, she was mentored by Marge Piercy in a juried poetry workshop in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. A graduate of the University of Toronto, she lives in Upstate New York and is writing her first book.