William Brewer is the author of I Know Your Kind (Milkweed Editions), a winner of the National Poetry Series. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Narrative, The Nation, New England Review, and the New Yorker. He is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and lives in Oakland, CA.
My neck is sore from looking up at the bay of TVs above the airport bar,
live-action news of emergency crews around the 767
that overran the runway, crashed into the breaker stones outside.
I witnessed it from my gate, was the first to wander over here in a daze
where for two hours now I’ve sat with others,
shoulder-to-shoulder, another three rows standing to capacity.
Ambulance strobes look pink through the natural static of wintry mix.
Those kept out are forced to huddle around the windows
to watch the action in real-time. The strange elation
of witnessing disaster. I feel it pulsing through the air,
a shared intimacy, and yet how lonely it makes each of us,
none of whom are responsible for being where we are.
My neighbor orders us another round I wish I didn’t want,
could say no thanks I’ve had enough because I have,
but I accept it with a cheers. I hate the way I smile as I drink it.
We shared a plate of wings, almost like friends.
A man holding his smartphone checks his wristwatch for the time
beside departures in a column glowing red.
A correspondent in an anorak walks on screen,
squints against the weather, presses a finger to his ear
to better hear the questions of his colleague in the studio.
Conversations expand, grow louder to resist new info;
knowing nothing for sure feels like a special kind of freedom.
My neighbor asks why do the replays of the crash look so different than what I saw?
Starched white napkins orange with prints of sauce-stained mouths.
Spilled vodka sodas, plates of bones. My neighbor asks do you know what I mean?
I press a finger to my ear and ask could he repeat that?
A channel splits the livestream with crash footage
shot on phones from within the terminal,
then a recording of the crowd watching the crash.
How we jumped up from our seats. Held our hands to our mouths.
Reached for our devices. People hiss for quiet, searching for themselves
on screen. That I’m unable to see what my face was reacting to,
regardless of the fact that I had witnessed it,
makes the past seem incomplete.
Requests for silverware, closed captioning.
I say when I saw my brother’s mugshot on the news
I wasn’t convinced it was him. The nose was right. But the face
too fleshy. Spectral mists of de-icing spray drift into the frame.
He says I once saw a plane filled with Herefords headed for Japan
crash on takeoff up in Anchorage. Notoriously bad winds there.
Shattered trees and bloody steak.
I feel obligated to keep this up, repulsed by the reminder of obligations.
Deadlines, itineraries, itemized receipts.
I said that I read that “daiboufu” in Japanese means the wind
that knocks down horses. He says we’re talking cattle and besides I’ve heard that.
I know he hasn’t heard that.
Minor betrayals are happening everywhere.
Someone says just to smoke a cigarette you’ve got to go all the way out,
come all the way back.
The window crowd erupts in applause before news cameras
have even focused on the plane doors bursting open, yellow slides inflating.
By the time we cheer for the first passenger to jump
she’s already on the tarmac walking toward us.