The Aviators

Author | Alani Hicks-Bartlett

So far, there have been two people who have fallen out of my life,
Suddenly. Just like that, upturned rockets whirring. 

The first was a shock, since he was young and green
And should have been made to last.

It caught me by surprise, news of his great fall arrived softly but swiftly,
At a stop in an airport, or during the interminable minutes between two trains.

The only time the train comes too soon,
Is of course, if you’re not there to meet it.

Or, if the person you’re destined to love for the rest of your life
Because of this chance encounter gets off of the train,

But you’re not yet prepared, you’ve not yet arrived,
So you simply cannot allow your paths to collide

—A perfectly inelastic collision; a sacrifice of kinetic energy,
Two bodies bound together.

Or perhaps it would be more like a maritime allision, 
The moving vessel of your destiny’s wooden-hulled body striking your stationary rock.

Whether it be a delicate ankle stepping down
With a dark-eyed grasp for bearings, eyes shielded against the sun,

Or the broad shouldered gait and Parisian way,
And commandeering hands that catch your attention.

The train comes too soon on the frozen nights
In which you and everyone that you know and love,

And even those you know don’t know, and whom you don’t love are herded
And shuttled off to a death camp—this is what the man who loved my father told me: 

Aktion Reinhard : Bone-crushing Bełżec, Treblinka
And even little Madjan, right within the protective confines of the city!

Then it is much too terrible, it should not be said, and the murderous chug
Of a train sputtering thick coagulations of smoke comes much too soon.

So I try to be measured about airplanes and trains,
That is, I meet them with great responsibility.

Never early. Never late. Always the one I had planned to take
As long as the schedule runs true, but the schedule always fails us.

The other boy who fell from the sky
Was methodical about it.

Preparing his hurt and cultivating his great wounds,
He nursed his grief, fitting it with gossamer wings.

They were grey and slightly crinkled at edges dog-eared by conformities,
And streaked through with pulsing lavender veins.

Armed with his wings and foreign words like a skein of hair trailing dappled geese,
He took care to plan his flight.

But oh, how his wings ripped when he flew,
Buckling and bending and tearing and snagging under the weight of his sun-stroked body.

Not like Daedelus’s son, he was Phaethon,
Who had a madder and more frenzied course.

But both of my unfortunate aviators met the ground in the same terrible way.
One larger-boned, one with a larger flight.

It makes mourning mothers think of the way a river meets a delta
The way the impact fractured and broke the land around them

Into crags and quarries. Leaving rivulets of misspent youth and blood, flowing out;
Scaring even the gore-freckled Nereids, and the crabs with their razor-sharp claws.

Both of my aeronauts sang the same Greek songs,
As they fell like a streak of lightning, as they seethed and faded like a falling star.

Pan’s reed-pipe melody waned and split, 
Harsh and coughing, staccato and peeling.

The way their crash splintered the mourning poplar trees
Sang back to the dying deer who for four long years carefully peeled strips of bark

Like mottled bandages, like strips of failing gauze,
From the storm-split hardwood trees to stave off his final hunger. 

Sang back to the way the burning earth, cracked toothless and wide-open
Fractured the solitary lives of those of us who loved them. 


About the Author | Alani Rosa Hicks-Bartlett is a writer, translator, and photographer who lives in the SF Bay Area. She holds a PhD in Literature and Gender Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Gathering Storm, The Fourth River, Tweetlit, the Taj Mahal Review, Continuum, Renaissance, Illinois History, and Lucero. Her translation of three sonnets from the Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda I Gurguí recently appeared in Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation, and she is currently working on a collection of villanelles. Follow her on instagram or twitter at @alanirosa