Two Poems

Bumpy Air

Outside, the air’s alive up here
(Six miles above the North Atlantic),
And none too pleased we’re passing through.
The almost party atmosphere
Inside has vanished.  Now a frantic,
More natural calm grips us like glue.

Dinner, its clink and chatter, cleared,
The boy’s mom mouths, “He’s two.”  His cry
Takes over, as a liturgy—
Which is by repetition seared
In the mind—can lift or mortify.
What words would come in vain to me

If you were mine to comfort?  Drop
After deep drop, we hit some floor
And, shuddering, level off though not
For long.  Then down . . . the next hard stop
Till . . . down.  No children’s ride.  Still your
Plainsong laments our common lot.

“Big pockets full of bumpiness.”
The captain’s gloss.  Be reconciled
To the uncertainties of flight,
He’s saying.  Sure.  But if you’re less
Experienced traveling in the wild—
A little Adam, the first cold night?

A Man at the Hospital, During Your Surgery and After

“My wife?”  No beard, but otherwise he looked
Like Lincoln.  Tall, stooped shoulders, too long face.
Waiting like me, though he stayed on his feet.
He’d get no farther than the desk, then ask
His question.  The woman, looking up, would smile:
“It shouldn’t be much longer.”  She’d keep smiling,
Inviting him—“it’s fresh”—to have some coffee
And sit down.  “No, thanks.”  One time, his age came out
(Seventy-eight) and that this was his wife’s
Third operation in three months.  “A fighter,”
He announced.  Most times, he just walked off I don’t
Know where, and wasn’t there to see your surgeon
Show up a little early, also smiling.

He sat, head bowed, a silhouette.  Old Abe
Late in the war.  The evening lights outside
Glistened—distant and cold as winter stars—
In the big window by his table, shaped,
And held him still.  I moved, tray first, counting
On one last stroll around your floor—IV
And monitors all gone, your fingers pressed
Against my arm—and later talking turkey
With the nurse about the protocol for leaving.
His eyes, as I ducked past, stuck tight to his plate
Of pot roast, peas, and “home style” mashed potatoes
He hadn’t touched.  Praying for courage, maybe—
Afraid to eat and, then, have nothing left.

—Charles Hughes, Park Ridge, IL