Contents May Shift During Flight

I was on a flight home from Austin, Texas, to New York City in 2005. We were 30 minutes out from JFK when the pilot came on and said we had to make an emergency landing because there appeared to be a malfunction in the landing gear’s breaking system.

We circled for a while. People weren’t freaking out like I thought they might. The woman next to me was tearing up, but said she knew we'd be ok. Two other people were joking about the whole thing. A friend of mine who was on the same flight and sitting in the back later told me there was one woman who was convinced we were all going to die. To me, the crew looked calm. To him, they looked panicked. It was as if we were on different flights.

My wife, Meridith, and I had only been married about six months. I had no idea what to feel. I was scared, sure, but really didn't feel like I was going to die. At the same time, I had no strong sense I was going to live. I simply didn't know. I just stared out my window, watched the wing and sky and thought how weird it would be for Meridith if I died. It would be tragic, yes, but having been married such a short period of time, she would surely move on with her life, remarry, maybe even have children. Yet my eternity would be her, my thoughts of her as I stared out the window trying to process (or not) what was happening.

The pilot came on and announced that we were going to attempt a landing. I can't remember him giving instructions about what to do, or the cabin crew doing that either, but they must have. Air traffic had us land on a runway very far away from the rest of the airport. As we got closer to the ground, I could see fire trucks and emergency crews racing along beside us. Then the crew started yelling, brace! brace! brace!, and we all must have taken whatever action that was.

I felt the wheels hit the ground. It took a long time, an eternity, it seemed, to come to a stop. And then it was done. People cheered, some hugged. The sense of relief was palpable. We pulled up to our gate and disembarked like normal to our separate futures.


Justin Marks’ first full-length poetry collection is A Million in Prizes (New Issues, 2009). His latest chapbooks include On Happier Lawns (Poor Claudia, 2011) and Voir Dire (Rope-a-Dope, 2009). A founding editor of Birds, LLC, he lives in Queens with his wife and their three-year-old twin son and daughter.

Categories: Airplanes, Death

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