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Poem: "Unused Sky"

Unused Sky: The week after 9/11
by Christopher Walsh, 5/20/2017-5/27/2017






It took me some time to learn to look up.
My youth was full of plane-noise, mostly ignored
— I do not recall if Rancho Bernardo
Was overflown much. Did Miramar flights
Boom past that part of San Diego?
I couldn't tell you. Camarillo next,
Where planes from Point Mugu did roar over us,
But I did not watch. Planes were backgrounded.
It took until the mid-1980s
In Northern Virginia, in a new home,
For me to start to watch more planes above
As they approached the airport near to me.
This added to the flavor of my days:
What would I spot? Any of the big planes,
Maybe military, maybe Concordes?
(Smaller than you'd think, but loud, of course.)
To-and-from, in-and-out of Dulles
And National and Andrews: once I saw
A B-52 overfly my high school,
And I was quick enough to snap a photo
As it contrailed past, bound to an air show.
Likely that every plane that flies, at some
Point, is seen by someone below who looked
Up. It's the habit of enough of us.

One Tuesday, four of those planes became weapons.
Three hit targets. One didn't. And with that,
A continent-wide swath of air was cleared.

Emergency landings. Cancellations.
And for two days, almost nothing but clouds
Were above. No traffic. National Guard
Jets boomed across skies. Medical transports
Flew where needed. Otherwise, none above.
Airspace had not been that clear for decades,
Maybe not since the 1930s, or,
Perhaps, even earlier. It was a
View our 19th-century ancestors
Were used to, accepted: a given. But
A glaring, disconcerting, strange-to-see
Disruption for us. Until then, we had
Used the sky. We were not used to seeing
It be unused. On our roads, on the ground,
The usual noise went on: more car trips
And train trips, in fact, as we made up for
The missing flights that week. Places to reach:
So many of us still had those needed
Journeys. We tried to meet obligations.
We did so with a silence over us.
The air above New York and Arlington
Held pulverized landmark-remains: one breathed
What had been lost, if one were close enough.
If you were there, you saw a skyline, punched
Through, empty for the first time in decades,
A space which marked a grave where none should be.
The impacts, twice in New York, once in D.C.,
And once in Shanksville, where planes left the sky
Then crashed with noise like Earth upending, pierced
Our equilibrium. We all were jarred.
A threat we'd not expected, not really,
Implied by those skies: pain had come from there
And could, perhaps, again.
—————————————The sky is just
The sky: just there, just air, clean or unclean
To different degrees, clear or storming or
With infinite varieties of clouds,
So many possible colors that we
Are lucky enough to sometimes see, just
From looking up. But our relationship
With skies had changed: What else may come from them?
What else may then go wrong? What might we see
Up there that could cause hurt once more? What else?

It took me some time to relearn to look:
To see the sky as, once more, simply sky.
I readjusted, once past the shocks of
The week, a tough while-stunned perspective shift.
The sky, of course, had not been altered. It
Had not turned wrong in some impossible
Way: nothing intrinsic had changed at all.
The alterations for so many were
Inside, in hearts, in minds, all wounded. Then
We breathed. We healed, where possible. It was
Not easy, since life had scarred, had been hurt.
The sky gave what it would. It did its job,
Still, letting us breathe, giving sun and rain,
And making room for planes to fly as before.
I never did forget the unused skies
As we were waiting, in uncertainty,
For history, or more history, to,
Perhaps, occur. A pause, one punctuated
By days of unexpected emptiness
Of all above that we could see, as we
Adjusted to what might, what might, come next.


© Christopher Walsh, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Christopher Walsh (chris_walsh) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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