Airplane poems

I started a series of these awhile back, to keep myself from having hysterics on airplanes. They so don't like that these days. This is one of the first (first published in


Salvavida bajo su asiento.
It took me awhile to translate: lifesaver
under your seat. Under this fragile body
of lofting steel, our tennis rackets and rain
coats, our bathing suits, and below that,
turbulent pockets and updrafts.
And under that, what no lifesaver
can cushion. But in the air they soothe
in every tongue: salvavida
is below your asiento, and that’s all you need to know.
That, and at the press of a button, everything
in featherweights – the five-ounce can
of tomato juice at ninety-minute intervals,
two cookies and twenty chips, a pillow
small as a cloud measured with fingers
on the window. They float up the aisles
to keep you warm and half-asleep,
to make sure that salvavida is handy.
Someone like the mother you ought to have had,
who salvas your vida while it hurtles at five hundred per,
someone who says, in case you speak English –
and only up here: salvation is at hand.