There is the Light of Olympia
Or is it the light
Of the prison yard?
The light of the Eye
Looking at us
Over the island
Across the channel.
A dim light.
A theatre light.
A light under a curtain.
The prop of the island
Is a prison island.
Is the light from there
Or the Capital?
Jagged black cuts
The paper island
In the light is a hint of green.
In the light is a glint of red.
We stand on a cliff,
We look over at the light,
The Light of Olympia
Or of bright lights
Shining down shining up
On/off the yard.
There was an inversion fog/
Smog and dreadful gray
Streaks on the stone walls,
Or on an ivy tangled city
Of Demigods and Owls.
Silence that tightens your intestines or makes you want to laugh....
The shuttle-bus driver, white-haired, bespectacled, chewed on his cheeks and said nothing to the bus full of people.
He maneuvered the twenty-two passenger rig out of the hotel parking lot. First, he dangerously reversed. Hardly looking in the mirror. There was loud beeping. Second, he slammed it into drive and accelerated out of there. Now he slammed on the brakes at a stop sign.
He had said little so far. Only what he had to say. And like it was a recording:
"Now departing Gig Harbor. Next stop Seattle-Tacoma International Airport."
He might have mumbled, Here we go, to himself.
Who could have guessed that he had been on duty for four hours? It was just now getting light.
Now all the passengers, and nearly every seat was taken, were quiet in their passive frustration. I mean they were like twenty-five minutes late! People don't have that kind of time to throw around! I mean, where had he been?
Everybody was cold, impassive. Flights might be missed. And what then?
There was a great busying of cell phones. Many fingers swept and dabbed. And blood pressure was collectively high, and rising.
Now the shuttle-bus plummeted down the freeway on-ramp.
Then the white-topped driver breathed for the first time in maybe five minutes. He shook out the sleeves of his shuttle-bus driver windbreaker. He addressed the passengers:
"Ah, okay. Where do I begin?" This said in a frazzled and defensive tone, empathetically you might say: He too was stressed. They were--he and his passengers--in this late situation together.
"How about the fog? There was a back-up in Silverdale. In Bremerton, I had two passengers with ticketing problems. I had to make a phone call into base. Then, ha-ha, there was road construction and we were on back-roads. So, I apologize. But, considering all these unforeseen circumstances, I think we are doing pretty good. I am going to drive just as fast as I can without hopefully attracting the attention of my friend Mr. Law. Again, thank you for your patience, and good morning. Next stop the airport.
In row four--the rows were not numbered but he was four rows back--a man, a young man, but not so young, pink cheeked, in a black sweater: a man was wedged next to a girl who was sleeping with buds in her ears and a big pink-cased phone clasped in her hand in what seemed a pose of rigor mortis. Indeed, he himself had a phone and was texting or trying to text his fiancée:
Bubumpiest ride I3ve ever bbeen onon. Wor2see tthaan that tuime onn bubus tpqs in mount5ainss of Ccosta Rica. Lliike 33rd word cuntree.
He is trying to sit with good posture, waiting and waiting still for takeoff. His hands are terribly dry from the isopropyl wipes. He looks at his hands and folds them in his lap.
The captain lets up on the brakes and the jet foots forward, Isaac Emerson sitting there beside the captain. Isaac is silent, staring out at his son Henry in the brightness of O’Hare at night.
Does he wonder about me? Does he hate me when I’m gone? In and out of his life I go, I go, I go, praying for the day I can stay.
Isaac thinks, We stumble into adulthood uncoordinated and flailing, tripping over rocks of opportunity. We stumble and then we tumble, and for what?
What are we all tumbling towards? Death, Isaac. Death, Mr. Emerson. Careening out of control out of the concise chaos of childhood, that jagged ballet of stubbed toes and burned fingers and broken bones, and we get pretty good at not hurting ourselves physically, and we get wonderful at wounding ourselves emotionally. Then we are just swerving drunkards, reckless and out of control of the vessels of our lives.
Isaac Emerson reaches up to his cravat and yanks it loose.
Not like you knew any better. Would be nice to have been warned. Rumbling rocks rolling after me. A constant crushing by what could have been. Now go about this job. Robbed! Robbed! Mobbed by the rocks on top of me!
The jet creaks forward, in the background the incessant chatter of ground control: “Taxi runway … Hold short of taxiway … Monitor tower on …” and on and on and on, and the little green lights in the ground leading the way, the little blurry balls of guidance. The jet trembles as the heavy jet ahead increases thrust, and the captain says, “If we’re gonna be behind this Seven-Sixty-Seven, we better go normal thrust.”
“Roger,” says Isaac Emerson, the first officer, changing the target takeoff thrust setting, adjusting the takeoff speeds. His right upper thigh twitches, begins to ache. He squeezes it.
He asks himself, How long now? A long time. But not all the time. Only now and then. You are fine. Everything is fine. Nothing outrageous is happening. You are not dying. You do not have cancer in your leg. Do not be ridiculous. Nothing like that is going to happen to you. It is all in your head.
Now they are fourth or fifth in line for takeoff, the field aglow in blue and red and green and yellow and white, and the thunder of a fully loaded 747 at full thrust does not distract him. Nor is he distracted by the cold air of the vents brushing over his arms, nor the tapping of the captain’s pen against the yoke, nor the smell of cold coffee. Isaac Emerson thinks, When you were a child and first learned about war, you hoped there would be one in which you could fight. Now you have your war, though not of arms, and how do you like it, you pacifist? You were brave in childhood. What happened? When you first learned about hunger, you hoped you would hunger. It’s true. And now you are hungry, though not starving, and how do you like it? How much have you eaten the past three days? Enough. Right, enough. It is good to skip meals. You are fasting right now. Oh, stop it. Focus on the task. So you are poor in spirit and desperate for peace in your heart and fullness in your life. Who does not long for these things? Focus, Isaac.
The captain positions the airplane on the runway. “Your controls,” she tells First Officer Isaac Emerson.
“My controls.” He brings up the power. The airplane trembles and shifts down the runway. They climb into the darkness. The nose-lights press into the coming cloud like against a stone wall. Then at cruise the new wait begins. He thinks it is all just the build-up to the takeoff and then the landing.
“I’m tired,” Captain Debra Young says, smiling over at her copilot.
“I’m hungry and restless,” Isaac Emerson answers. Like a child he says, “I want to go home.”
They chuckle. Glaring at the instruments, their eyes strain and bulge.
“Me too,” she says some time later.
“Want to hear a joke?” he asks her.
“How do flight attendants like their eggs in the morning?”
She plays along, “How?”
“That’s bad, Isaac. That’s really bad. Nice one. Got any more?”
She taps her pen on the thrust levers. “Figures.”
“Got any gum, captain?” he asks.
She reaches for her little bag of supplies. She holds down a grin. Before handing the gum to him, she warns, “It’s arsenic flavored.”
He reaches out for it, “Perfect. That’s my favorite flavor.”
The cockpit is loud with laughter. But soon it is quiet. Captain Young says, “Only two more days and two more nights. We’re almost halfway there. I think we’ll make it.”
“Of course we will,” Isaac Emerson says. “When have we not?”
“Never.” She props her foot up on the rubber pad beneath the instrument screens and interlocks her fingers around her knee.
The lights in the cockpit are turned down, and it is nearly as dark in the airplane as it is outside. The plane is going five hundred thirty miles per hour, but it feels like they are in a semi-truck storming down a country road. They sit in darkness. They wait for something to happen. The turbulence stops. They are floating in the sea. The drone of the engines is a drug for sleep of which the pilots are used to overcoming. Turned away from the captain, Isaac Emerson peers out at fists of stars.
Westpoint, on the coast, has no electricity because no one knows or even cares to know about the Children squatting on the beach whose blood soldiers drink and the skeletons posing in grotesque and miserable pictures of Cruelty and Despair and the prostitute Mother of an orphanage who makes the job sound like a good one because it is in Hell.
One will never find a hotter place, a filthier place, a place with more Suffering or where Women are more often Raped or where more Children are Dying of A.I.D.S. than in the United States’ one little African trophy.
The people were taken all along the Côte d’Ivoire and then returned to one little place. The capital, Monrovia, is named after the American President who willed this place. What may have been done with Good Intentions turned terrible as the Freed Slaves Enslaved the Native Population, making crops out of Men, eating each other, as we ate each other—their Toil and profound Suffering for the Sake of our Fat Stomachs.
And a hundred years after they returned, a Slave rose up, Rose up, and became President and Freed the Slaves and that’s when everything went to shit.
Was the West involved in the coup in 1980 and 1990 and 2000 and 2010? Who will deny that unrest in Africa contributes to our Material Wealth which is a Fat Stomach and a New Cellphone and ya-di-da while Children are Raped and Men and Women of all ages are Brutalized, Mutilated and Humiliated?
Liberia. Westpoint. Monrovia. Bloodstains and diseased rags. Heroinized Children, braindead, waiting to be fed.