Tuesday, mid-morning: ersterbend

three minutes
that Cessna was
in the air

Low altitude alert. 
Climb immediately.
called the air traffic 


[the plane] is experiencing
an in-flight emergency.


black smoke billowing
the grey day

three minutes to boil
water in my tea kettle :

the hissing climaxes to a
scream that fades to 
exhale white vapor like
blood from its silver body

we don’t yet know why 
the pilot didn’t respond
crashing into a home on
a ridge & killing her her
passenger & a dog

my brother’s a pilot :
it’s like driving on the
wrong side of the highway 
— no experienced person
would ever do such a 

an engine failure (that
would need to be two for
the twin engines) or
communication the fog

while he wonders why
it happened i ask myself
silently what they were
thinking what i would think

i think of Juliane Koepcke
the girl who fell two miles
& lived to walk away how
her mother as the lightning
struck LANSA Flight 508 
gripped her daughter’s hand
& said :

Now it’s all over

as the plane cracked in half
& fell to the jungle floor

what matters in that moment,
in those final seconds of
consciousness, when you
know you will not walk away ? —

i burned my tongue on my
tea it must steep for three more
minutes three minutes they
didn’t have

i watch my hot breath fading
on a cold window out to
this bleak summer day
my dying bonsai (haven’t 
been able to water for drought)
sprouted a green like gold
white lily glowing in the sun

turn away for a moment &
it’s gone — sitting in a pool
of thoughts unthought before
the interminable silence
of this moment
breaks in the noise 
of the things i give my
life to, 




towards that light, 

the night that covers me —

i couldn’t help but
hear Mahler’s Symphony
No. 9, Movement IV — 
all the light & pain,
the twists & turns,
the laughter, the love,
the chords bleeding 
into one another ; Mahler’s
final note, ersterbend,
a life, a whisper, the day’s
last breath, the sea, as
crimson fades to black even
Mahler could not hear :



My family loves aviation: my brother has dreamed of becoming a pilot since he was a young boy, and he and our father are both pursuing their private licenses. When my brother came home with the news that a personal aircraft crashed shortly after taking off — three minutes, to be more precise — from our regional airport, we were all shocked and saddened, not on an abstract, general level, but on a deeply personal one.

At first I didn’t want to write this poem, as I was finishing editing my other Poets Respond submission for this week, “CLOSED: bear management in progress”. I also didn’t want to overdramatize, to tell a story that I didn’t feel was mine to tell. But after reading Laura van den Berg’s introduction to the Spring 2021 issue of Ploughshares Review, quoting Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, I knew I had to: “I suppose that documenting things—through the lens of a camera, on paper, or with a sound-recording device—is really only a way of contributing one more layer, something like soot, to all the things already sedimented in a collective understanding of the world”.

I had to contribute this one layer, this moment, so that if those who died in the plane crash could no longer live on earth, perhaps this poem could give them new life. If I did not write, I felt that I would lose a part of myself, too.

Image Credit: Monterey County Regional Fire District