United Airlines flight 5437, Tucson to Denver, 5:15 a.m.
Seat 10D backseat library
Not for lending, these volumes, SkyWest magazine, with a feature on “Michigan: Keweenaw Peninsula,” my home whether or not I’d like to claim it. These things claim us: the winter crush, the lack of touch for weeks, a conversationless month so silent that one late night I sojourned, unintentional monk, to the Wal-Mart just to catch a human voice. It fell away soon enough, brief drift into the cashier’s use of CHANT (Customers Have a Name Too, through which they are instructed to address the customer by name if the customer presents a card or check), then my Chinese junk stowed safely in the car in dolphin-throttling plastic sacks, as if the night had meant to say this long silence is a sentence diagrammed for you and you alone.
This library is small, meant for me alone, the collection limited. The CRJ700 Passenger Safety card, there to stay, beside the point, as we all know, since all we’ll be is teeth and Great Lake vapor—name of a new smokeless cigarette—when we go down in flame and last question death mask, but we kowtow to ritual, pretend to pay attention, just like in school. We got good at that, the darkening, the silence, tuning out this world, tuning into another, like cracking an egg and finding in its place another egg but this one filled with glowing something special, and worthy of our hallowed study, our days counting down in study hall to the end of winter.
I study Hemispheres from Continental Airlines, crossword only partly done, of course. 37 across, “a book of maps,” five letters—they got this one, “atlas,” and this mag is too an atlas: here’s where we fly, you and Continental Airlines and possibly the hand of god, the clean circular routes to suggest dimension. But for 91, three letters, “forest female,” I think they must mean elf? but that’s crap as any reader knows: elves can too be male or perhaps like always I am up the wrong tree chasing the wrong forest female into greenery from which I will not emerge unscathed. Maybe sylph or dryad but overlettered, likely too obscure D&D for this. Fox, instead? Or the vixen version, tracks of male and female criss-crossing exes in snow.
43 across, four letters for “excited,” good news, they got “agog,” but that was it.
A few bits missing: piece of map, torn out as perhaps a scrap of paper or to house gum past pulverized and geocached for another finder. Knowing that we’re allowed to take the magazines home, I do, but the safety information card’s the real prize. I stole dozens for my collection in years past, pleased with the iconography, the odd illustration decisions. I envisioned later planes going down, the crowd, once bored, scrapping for a card, a crutch, a written revelation to clutch into the blur of their final moments. Traveling alone, do you choose another heart’s to hold? Does it matter whose? Is it the one who most looks like the one you love? The one you had eyes for on this flight, even if these flirtatious semaphors never crest because where is there to go?
Two barf bags, one unmarked, the other “For Motion Discomfort / Or Baby Diaper Disposal.” For deposit, either way. No need to return. I fill mine with snacks. And put it back. A surprise for someone sore-backed, weary, weepy.
I write inappropriate mash notes on napkins on planes and in airports and leave them for another future lover. Start emails I have to then delete and will fear later I had sent them unredacted. An anonymous space makes us bold. We can hold so few, and only briefly.
Ander Monson is the author of five books, most recently Vanishing Point (Graywolf, 2010) and The Available World (Sarabande Books, 2010), a website, a decoder wheel, two chapbooks, and other paraphernalia. The editor of the magazine DIAGRAM and the New Michigan Press, he lives and teaches in Tucson, Arizona.