Poem: Four Passages
By Ruth Towne
1. I’m white-knuckled, twisted away from the window, eyes closed, lips tight, tighter at take-off. I’m terminally internally talking to myself—either up or down if we happen to be flying or that other f-word—saying, We’re not falling we’re not falling we’re flying we’re not falling. And when those inner tube-sized tires touch tarmac, I try to think that they won’t snap on impact because we’re not the Challenger and hey, I’m not Christa McAuliffe. And when the brakes grab gravity tight like I do the chair arm, I avoid thinking Does a plane flipping end over end feel like a rollercoaster ride? And when I land in Portland International Jetport from over the Atlantic, I reassure myself thinking the Hudson River is nowhere near here so we’ll land on land not winter-water. I’m afraid to fly, but planes are the fastest way home.
2. I’m on my way to the camp, since my private parents (my father especially) picked a plot (actually two adjacent lots of land) that we can access by boat only for our bungalow. We’ve boated over bags of dry concrete, truckloads—truckloads of crushed stone, plywood pallets, grandparents, generators, German shepherds, coolers, fishing poles, fly rods, brothers uncles cousins, table saws, chainsaws, axes. And if anyone saw us they never said so, probably because we often only barely slipped through the mile long surface with four inches of aluminum exposed, though we have faded Polaroids to prove it. But the water is so very black no matter what I’ve seen: First Davis Pond, Cider Mill Pond, Leigh’s Mill, Knight’s Pond, Moosehead Lake, Second Davis Pond, Frost Pond. Not only do I not understand how aluminum, which is denser than water, can float, but I also don’t know how many or what kind of fish or how large the rocks or how long the swim or how cold or how deep or how long the soaked stumbling after. Or really just when the pickerel trout salmon hornpout will bite me. And I’m weighted by the fact that I got held back in swimming school at four years old and would probably definitely drown when the boat went down because I don’t float. But I couldn’t boat home, even if I were willing to take the risk.
3. I’m driving overnight, all night. Passengers keep each other awake much like trapped winter weather wanderers huddled against each other and the elements. It’s not just the wild white-tails or the fearless family pets that trouble me. We might doze and damage more than they would. Other drivers scare me because even if I don’t fall asleep, I never know who’s tipsy who’s texting who’s too tired. Meanwhile, I’m recklessly eager to get home. These—my 2001 Honda CR-V with the more-pink-than-red hood, five seats stuffed with stuff for home, one-hundred and eighty or more thousand cautiously commuted miles, and only a cassette player and radio—are the most convenient way home. Still, they say I’m more likely to die on my way to the airport than on the plane ride home.
4. I’m rightly riding rails. They ferry people over land and don’t go over under through like other transports do. Our highways, turnpikes, freeways—they all cut the land. They slit the grass and soils and trees in some complexly ugly loop like paintings children make by adding adding adding seeing late we can’t subtract our glitter glue like we can simple sums. Once, DC bound, we moved across a city never sleeping, sliding over coasts and copses. Sounds so subtle soothe me like a clock tick tocking; sights show inscape more than instress (these I perceive with my own two eyes); I’m feeling ploy-nylon wool benchseat backs curving close. And rigid rolling running rushing ever-onward rails convince me it’s okay that I am not one of those people, one of those who travels just to go to any place at all, seems soothed by sitting in a plane or train or boat or CR-V, seems soothed and not unsettled, seems so still. Blue Water, Empire Builder, Crescent, Silver Star, my Downeaster—these lightly lulling loving let me know it’s almost time. And oh that smell of sticky pine pitch, split wood, bags of balsam fir all cutting through the open window—they say Don’t you worry, Ruth, you’ll be home soon.