Charles Harper Webb (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The ticket settles on my desk: a paper tongue
pronouncing "Go away;" a flattened seed
from which a thousand-mile leap through the air can grow.
It's pure potential: a vacation-to-be
the way an apple is a pie-to-be,
a bullet is a death-to-be. Or is the future
pressed into it inalterably—woven between
the slick fibers like secret threads
from the U.S. Treasury? Is my flight number
already flashing as cameras grind and the newly-
bereaved moan? Or does it gleam under Arrivals,
digits turned innocuous as those that didn't
win the raffle for a new Ford truck?
If, somewhere, I'm en route now, am I
praying the winged ballpoint I'm strapped into
will write on Denver's runway, "Safe and Sound"?
Was my pocket picked in Burbank,
and I've just noticed at thirty thousand feet?
Am I smiling, watching the clouds' icefields
melt to smoky wisps, revealing lakes
like Chinese dragons embroidered in blue below?
Lifting my ticket, do I hold a bon voyage,
or boiling jet streams, roaring thunderstorms,
the plane bounced like a boat on cast iron seas,
then the lightning flash, the dizzy plunge,
perfectly aware (amid the shrieks and prayers)
that, live or die, I won't survive the fall?
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