William Jay Smith

1918 / Louisiana, USA

The Flight

"Come," the Captain said. "let me show you
how this place looks from the air."
And I followed him to the monoplane, the little "cat"
waiting at the end of the runway.
We strapped ourselves in—he in front
and me behind—and soon the propeller began to turn
and we were off into space,
leaving the atoll and its blue lagoon below.

A sputtering of the engine,
a strong smell of oil, the constant swirl of air
over our faces, and the incessant shaking
of the plane, the voice of the radioman
on the island crackling through the static—
I lost all sense of time.
How long had we been up? Ten minutes,
fifteen, twenty, forty-five?. . .I was nodding
and slipping off into another world
when suddenly, loud and clear,
the Captain spoke to bring me back.
To the radioman he said, "We'd better find
our way down soon because we are running
out of gas.". . . I clearly saw at once
the beginning of our end.

And it was then
that the voices began to reach me—
faint at first, and fluttering
mothlike through consciousness,—
but gradually thickening, growing more distinct
and resonant—until they all got through to me
just as they had originally
when they had come from that other plane
that was trying desperately to find our island. . .
and were soon swallowed up by the sea.

How long had we been up? My whole life flew by in seconds,
and I knew that I was ready to answer
those voices rising from their deep well. . .
I would find those who had been unable to find me.
I would reach them easily now
wherever it was they had lain so long in wait.

I was prepared for our end, for the slap of the cold wave
and everything beyond. . .but first I turned aside
one final time, and—
miracle of miracles—
a bead-curtain of rain cut through the air
to reveal an open segment of sky
and below it an atoll and a blue lagoon.

The island garden flew up to greet us—
all its perfumes and water flowers encircling our faces—
as the plane brought us back to the coral strip
where great waves broke on the world's edge,
and standing there at the reef"s very tip
I found the mind's ever-present clear image
of that sleek tropic tree
one slender fronded branch
projected into infinity.
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