Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Through Footless Halls of Air

Laughter-silvered wings.
It began with violence in the sky. A great crash and a fill of the black sky, certain splashes of violence illuminating, for split seconds, the horses on the wall, the strange circus scenes, all sorts of previously unnoticed angles. He cowered sometimes beneath the sheets. Brave at other times, even as far as stepping slowly across the room – as if they might see or hear him – to watch from the window. From the outside you would see a boy’s face, perfectly framed, dazzled by the horror but lit up all the same.

The tumbling mirth.
All of his dreams had long since vanished. Of course. But as he remembered himself as a younger man, he struggled to recall what those dreams were, the dreams he had claimed to have lost. That is, he struggled to remember his real hopes, his real aspirations, and not just the ridiculous imaginings that, truth be told, still peppered his mind. It’s like, he said, it’s like I’ve just sat there.

I have danced the skies.
I watched, once, as they fought in the sky. I was at the window, my face cold against the warmth of the glass. It was dark and I should have been asleep. My mother and father downstairs, beneath the table, behind the settee. A fighter pilot is all I wanted to be.

Wheeled and soared and swung.
I dreamt last night that I could fly. First through the streets of London. I willed myself, knowing myself to be in a dream, knowing I could do just as I liked. I took to the London streets, soared, rose a bit, flew down, then, into the streets of Manhattan. The Chrysler Building my beacon. And the noise, the people. Me the flier. I flew.

Chased the shouting wind.
Distant music, a rumble. Perhaps a crash through the clouds. Up there, in the sky, a great grey superhero whizzing by.

The long, delirious burning blue.
As these walks into parks, the countryside, along the beach attest, they offered the blankness of sky, the canvas if you like, on which he could sketch his dreams that were, at least for a small part, not so ridiculous after all. There in the big skies. Plus full observance of the things that fly. To nature he turned.

Of sun-split clouds.
Aviation shifts, notebooks of style: Progress of lift, a poor start. First a wave, the faintest shimmer, then the slightest rise. We have, as they say, lift off.

Wind-swept heights with easy grace.
First it was The Time Bider. I always hated the name, suggested by my first wife. A master of the past, the present and the future. He could fly, of course, and fly through time. His name though, as I tried to explain at the time, implied stasis, stillness, rather than motion. She had, my first wife, very thick legs. In fact, I’m not sure that I even liked her.

Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
Then The Red Kite. Who flew, or floated, while attached to the mains via a long electrical cable. When the days weren’t windy he didn’t go out.

My eager craft.
At secret gatherings in glorified sheds behind dunes they hatched, him and his new-found friends, in the late nineteen-fifties, newer ways of flight, taking to the beach with various contraptions, flight like Orville and Wilbur Wright. Soared majestically, as they always say, some of them, while others spluttered and coughed, coming down to earth with hard bangs even as their engines sang. A mixture of wings and flapping, rotating jiggups, gliding canvasses, rocket engines, the power of the wind. Good stabs at flying saucers.

The surly bonds of earth.
At that height, with that kind of damage, your only choice is down. You imagine, for some reason, as you fall back towards the earth, that you will survive. It’s as if the earth is calling you down, telling you to stop being so foolish, reassuring you that she will look after you. So even though you know you would be better remaining in the sky, you tell yourself that the earth, where you truly belong, could never be so cruel. And at the moment when you resign yourself to that irresistible pull from below, your engines hack themselves into life. Not today mother, not today. And away you go.

High in the sunlit silence.
Hiding behind clouds bent into shapes like circus animals, coloured slightly from the previous night’s debris, the aftermath of battle wow. You should have seen it. Up all night, some of us, observing from terra firma those black dots of birds in flight crashing into each other, some of them spiralling down. We saw parachutes we think. We saw flames. Some of us saw the terrified faces of soon to be dead pilots or maybe not. It was, after all, night. But this morning the wash of the sun and you’d really expect scorch marks or clouds in the shape of death signifiers instead of this canvas of circus animals coloured, of course, by the sun.

(Titles taken from the poem High Flight by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr.)


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Well said.

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