between our arrivals and our Departures,
it is a strangely guiltless territory 
– Marne L. Kilates

With my wife in her usual high-altitude slump,
seat-belt fastened, the cabin lights dimmed
and bad comedy on the movie channel, I slip
into what one poet has termed the blameless country
of air travel. I’ve ploughed through several novels
this way, unperturbed, felt the heart-surge
when a particularly rousing phrase of Beethoven’s
coincides with the exact moment of take-off. Sometimes
the peace is so rare I wave off free champagne,
and in Economy the meals are never worth missing
the view for: sunset over the Grand Canyon, or the Pacific
flowing like silk brocade. Now we enter the sphere
of maps, a world abstracted and solid all at once.
As settlements snuggle up to rivers, and paddyfields
play endless checkers on terraced hillsides, there’s
space enough for long thoughts, wispy musings.
Do clouds, for instance, discharge their burdens in relief,
or do they, in their secret hearts, dream of the fallen?
And which is the life we regret, what was left behind
or the one to which we hurl at 800 km/h? Only
at such giddy velocities might we savour the wonder
of stasis, how the earth’s rotation holds us easily
in place. Just as, if we knew the true evanescence
of a second, it would stop us in our tracks —
with indecision, if not physics. Yes, even in seat 34A,
risking thrombosis, with barely enough room to clap,
there’s time to ponder unseen forces, the invisible
lift beneath all our wings, only the first human
century in history with this luxury of boredom.
If the flight were any longer we’d resort to art.
Plot new routes to godhood. No surprise the Pyramids
(just visible beneath cloud-cover on your left)
had tombs built like departure lounges, since
many of us too would opt to go to ground
this way — with such conducted ease, to the sound
of our preferred music in the company of strangers.
How good to set off so eager, yet unhurried, to arrive
watched for, and welcomed at the gates.

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