The Less Than Perfect Flight

I was on a flight from New York to Pittsburgh. All of a sudden the pilot got on the loudspeaker telling us that we’re going to make an emergency landing in Harrisburg, Pennslyvania. He wasn’t sure of the nature of the problem, so he didn’t want to speculate. The plane seemed too heavy. They’ve dropped some tanks to make the plane lighter, but he still couldn’t say with certainty what was wrong.

I imagined the pilot throwing our luggage out next. I went through a mental checklist, trying to remember if I packed anything valuable. I should have taken my old toothbrush instead of a new one. Then I worried about the question of liability. With my luck my suitcase would be the one to hit and kill someone. How could I deny my responsibility? I over packed – making it a heavier deadlier weapon. Unless from the height we were at my suitcase would burn up like a meteor and hit the earth the size of a pebble. I kept thinking of the song, “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket.” Maybe the person about to get hit by my suitcase might see it at the last second and catch it. There was always hope, though it was getting slimmer.

Then the pilot got on the speakers again to tell us that we might hear sirens and see ambulances and security cars heading for our plane, but we shouldn’t worry, because it was only a precaution. He doubted whether we would need any help.

We landed in Harrisburg, only to be told nothing was wrong. The pilot made a personal appearance emerging from the cockpit to tell us that he could understand why we were mad at him for interrupting our flight but it was better to be safe than sorry. In fact, whether we want to admit it or not, there could have been something wrong with the plane. Therefore, in a less than perfect world his preemptive actions could have saved our lives. In fact, it only caused more delay. But he wasn’t responsible for the world, only the plane. In answer to the inquiry whether any luggage was thrown out the chute, the answer was no.

We got to Pittsburgh safe but late. I stayed in a section called Squirrel Hill. I never saw one squirrel. But if truth be told, I wasn’t looking. I avoided looking up in the trees.


Hal Sirowitz is the author of four books of poetry with a fifth one forthcoming from Backwaters Press in Nebraska. One book, Mother Said, was translated into nine languages. He's the former Poet Laureate of Queens, New York. He has been published in The Bellevue Review and New Vilna Review.

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