I can’t get a drink on this goddamn flight,
Despite the incessant turbulence,
Creaky wings extended as disjointed limbs,
the clear image of the plan careening
down down down
screams ricocheting through confined space
White knuckles, clenched lips
Grimaced prayers and
thirty seconds of sheer terror before an eternity of darkness.

…can I please get a drink?

I imagine raspy conversations in the cockpit
From the old timer to the apprentice,
A bloated face two days from shaved,
His old, bleary eyes peering over aviators,
“How much time,
you think,
we’ll save just flying
through it?”
Tiny beads of sweat dollop his forehead,
as the rookie’s mind scrambles
for a polite, professional answer–
Recalling classes that offered advice
On navigating such a thing–

The old timer doesn’t wait for an answer,
Simply pushes the giant lever forward,
Elevating this mechanical embodiment
of human hubris upward,
A tiny ember of his ten year old self
Gleefully shouting,

There’s a thick tumble
At the back of the plane,
And my eyes close at a calculated pace,
Breathing techniques hoping to calm
an accelerating heartrate–
The plane shakes, dips–
and the other passenger’s conversations quell,
Fear expands to fill our silence–
The sense of worry now shared:
My existential paranoia mingles with
Pious hopes of an afterlife,
The socialist comfort of punishment
Or reward,
For all,
Or the looping fractals of reincarnation,
Recurring birth through different forms,
Theories of the unknown
transmuted through

The edge of annihilation allows no pretense,
There are no more moments
To assuage regret,
Only fervent, whispered prayers
For a drink,
A safe landing,
Another day
To procrastinate.

The rookie’s green eyes analyze dials,
Worry finally encroaching on professional etiquette,
“Are you sure we should be doing this…
“Doing what?”
The old timer pulls a power play honed
In hotel rooms while naked with
much younger girls,
“Doing what,

“Well, um….”
Rookie’s mind grasps frantically for
Some abstract lesson,
A way to sensitively–
Broach the conversation.

“It’s just that…the other route’s
He’s cut off by the horizon
Disappearing under the dashboard,
Safety eclipsed by clouds,
And the plane veers violently to the left,
then back to the right until the tiny window
shows a parallel view of the ground,
And I realize all the booze,
must be in the pilot.

I look up the aisle
And the stewardesses are so,
So far away,
From the last row,
And then the plane rumbles
For thirty minutes straight,
An infinite
of eternities,
As I shove aside
Rampant thoughts of regret,
Of novels unwritten
Songs unfinished, books unread
Lovers unloved words unspoken
And a guilty feeling that
I would simply accept
The end.

Mercifully time continues to pass,
And eventually the plane tumbles down in chunks
Upon descent,
A two step dance between
The plane and the clouds,
Ten thousand feet down, five thousand up,
A staccatoed spiral as we twirl
Around the airport–

The landing gear smashes against
Smacking against tarmac,
A lift, smack!, lift,
and settle…

“See? We’re early.”
The older timer says, thinking
That there’s enough time,
In the layover
For a drink.

“Yes…yes sir,”
Rookie’s knuckles are marred white against
The console,
His mind a searing tirade for different careers,
His mother scolding him,
“But you just finished pilot school!”

And I dream of a cold, carbonated
Reprieve, ice cubes circling
glasses, a dream
still postponed,
As the cabin has only one exit:
The front.

Donovan James is a writer, musician, cat enthusiast and psychonaut. He is still an idealist, despite a ravaging cynicism. He believes that the money and effort allocated to war and fear should be used to feed, shelter, and educate the poor, no human being excluded. His work has appeared in Commonline Journal, and Monkey With A Hat On theater productions. His book of poetry, Saudade, can be purchased here.