Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Mothers nursed infants on the ascent to protect
their tiny ears from the changing air pressure.
Children scribbled bright pictures in crayon.
Some kicked the seats in front of them.
Parents shrugged and smiled, embarrassed
by the annoyances of traveling with children.
A girl clutched her Dora the Explorer, whined
Why is it so cold? When will we be there?
Her mother soothed, Soon, tucked the blanket
around her, put in her earphones, leaned back
to try to get some sleep. Fathers played games
on tablets, helped time pass with trains, shapes,
and colors, then opened their magazines.
Grandparents shushed, Go to sleep. When
you wake up, we’ll be there. Eighty children
on board, the spots where their bodies fell
marked with white flags, adults’ remains
marked with red. The irony of the sunflowers
bowing above them. The old story of Icarus
falling from sky.
One Gaza Family Observes a Grim Holiday in Wartime
(after the story of the same title on NPR’s All Things Considered)
Yesterday my son learned to open the deadbolt.
Upset about his toys forgotten at daycare,
he slipped out the front door while I was changing
clothes, tried to go back to get them himself.
When I came out of the bedroom, he was gone.
For those two minutes, my heart stopped
until I scooped him up crying in the driveway.
Today, I thought of the mothers of Gaza.
We listened to the news while driving to daycare.
One Palestinian child dead every hour. A reporter
was interviewing a family celebrating Eid al-Fitr.
There are 53 people staying in this three-bedroom
apartment, including eight babies. At the sound-clip
of the babies crying, Liam asked, Baby?
Are you all right? The reporter is the same one
who interviewed me about my first book, who
helped me dismantle the violence of my childhood.
I want her to be safe, this woman I spent a few hours
with in a radio studio, a few minutes with on the phone,
I want the babies to be safe, their mothers,
their fathers. I don’t believe in a god,
neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor
Muslim, but I believe in the peace that can
inhabit a human heart. Meanwhile, in the story,
a four-year-old boy chooses his holiday present,
a toy gun. He delights in the rat-a-tat of the rifle-fire.
My son is obsessed with the science of life
and death. His six-year-old brain is sure
he can live forever if he asks the right
questions. After he asks what the blood
does in our bodies, we practice saying,
Ox-y-gen because he says, Osk-y-gen.
He lists everyone he knows who at one
time had oxygen carried to their cells
and now doesn’t. He recites the litany
of pets we’ve lost; then, he comes to
my grandpa, dead long before my son
was born, but still a fascinating figure
to his child-mind – that I had a grandpa
once, and now I don’t.
my disbelief that other kids could memorize
the periodic table. I would sit in Mr. Cooper’s
class and picture myself crawling in and out
of the O. So many letters, it overwhelmed,
but the O seemed designed for mental
gymnastics. It invited, Climb through.
I’m a portal to another world. When
I was a waitress at the sports bar owned
by an NFL player, I felt incredulous
that the shorthand on our tickets for water
had to be H2O. Chemistry in the sports bar—
a code for everything. Like computer-
programming, human interaction, everything
where you get one symbol wrong, and nothing
works. I wish life were elemental.
breathing. Just cells carrying what they need
to one another. I think of all the things I’ve
never learned to do—swim, play well with
others, why my brain won’t work like anyone
else’s, why I can never figure out how to save
myself. Don’t mind me. I’m over here—
So beautifully drowning alone.