May 2014

Welcome to the May issue of the Dragonfly Press Ezine! This month, we have:

“Mixing it Up” by Doug Flaherty (Poem)
“Now I lay me down to sleep.” by Lauren de Lannier (Story)
“Strange Formations” by Tom McKeown (Poem)
“Exceptions” by Blanche Abrams (Story)
“Waiting in Airports” by Jean Emerson (Prose Poem)

Mixing it Up

I will do anything for attention
because my attention span is so short,
stuck in a holding pattern over Trinidad.
At first it sounded like mice clawing
across the plane’s roof, until I reconsidered
the rhythm. It was Bonzai Buckaroos–
a Japanese cowboy kick-boxing team
and a flamenco stripper named Jalapeno
mixing it up at the outdoor sushi bar.
E-coli dropped in, got us to use our barf bags.
Someone whispered ice water. Sounded like lice swatter.
An alligator-wrestler wearing a new wrinkle
told me it took a lot of work to wreck a nice beach.
I echoed back: lot of work to recognize speech.
Now do you appreciate the intricacy-of-phonetic-
identification-patterns-in-robotic-application? I don’t.
Words give me tribulations up the yin-yang–

what’s my colon doing at the moment?
What would that dirty organ say if it could speak?
How about the propensities of the pancreas!
I suspect sperm cells are tunneling an escape route.
For good reason the medulla oblongata makes me queasy–
all that nervous tissue at the bottom of my brain,
mildly disturbed by a 1996 cabernet sauvignon.
Maybe I’m flying too high for my oxygen!
Language to me is a means to bend sounds like metal,
like the gravity force applied at 33 thousand feet.
Poetry is the opportunity to kick sand in the face
of a ninety-eight pound weakling, take the girl,
the money, and fly Venezuela. Pure fabrication.
You caught on from the start, I suspect. I mean
the part about a beach and a sushi bar being located
just outside the aircraft. However, the part about E-coli,
barf bags and the Bonzai Buckaroos is all true. However.

Between you and the lamppost, I would rather address
a figure-of-speech than my bladder. I suspect relevancies
when they are deeply hidden. No matter how deep
the figure of speech, it’s no further away than your lips.
But my bladder. Well, for propriety sake let’s move
to externalities– the scrotum– something in plain view.
I tell ya, puppies, we can fly just so high on metaphor.

Flaherty’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Harvard Review, North American Review, Quarterly Review of Literature, and scores of other journals. He has published four full-length books and half a dozen chapbooks. His work has appeared in eleven anthologies including From The Belly Of The Shark from Random House. “Mixing it Up” first appeared in Issue 6 of DP’s own The Montserrat Review and was subsequently published in the book Stilt (Parallel Press, 2006).

He has read at thirty universities across the country. Foreign readings include the University of Mexico and the Peacock Theatre (experimental branch of The Abbey Theatre, Dublin). The poet has been in residence at art colonies including Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

“Now I lay me down to sleep.”

(Co-captain Dan Roman in The High and the Mighty)

After three weeks in Virginia, I was in sensory overload having become acclimated to all things American. I no longer marveled at the thought of supermarket employees enthusiastically bagging customer’s groceries; I was unfazed by drivers willing to break the no-handheld phone law when operating a vehicle and I had become accustomed to the enormous portions served in fast food eateries. I remained, however, appreciative of the endless complimentary glasses of iced tea served in restaurants and the sleeved drinking straws that accompanied every cold beverage. I became mesmerized by the constant streaming of sporting events splashed across giant television screens as I dined and yes, I too, began to covet the gas-guzzling SUVs that dominated the highways. It was undeniably time to go home.

As I walked through the skeletal concourse of Dulles International Airport to my gate, I passed legions of strangers, tired and laden with briefcases, computers, some with unruly children-in-tow, as they lumbered along in all directions, most with a look of indifference in their eyes. I watched businessmen move robotically toward their departure lounges, carry-ons strapped across their shoulders, holding plastic cups of coffee in one hand and cell phones in the other. I passed stony-faced businesswomen hunched over laptops; pounding madly on the keys, inputting information from the meeting they had just attended while waiting for their flight to be announced. I wondered where I had gone wrong as I walked through the terminal questioning my decision to forsake a professional career for a role of domesticity, so fashionable back in the 1970s and 1980s. No doubt, if I had made different choices then, I would be more financially secure, more independent now.

Dutifully, I checked in with the United Airlines representative in the departure lounge, placing my passport on the counter for final inspection. The senior staff member behind the desk flipped through the pages until she found my photo and personal details; then looked up and lowered her half-frame glasses to the tip of her nose. “Did you ever fly for United?” she quizzed.

I gazed back at her; she looked vaguely familiar. “Caroline…? Caroline Vine?” I stammered in astonishment. It had been more than forty years since we had flown together.

“Let me clear this line of passengers; then we can catch up,” she gleefully suggested. I stepped aside, thinking how authoritative she looked…and what a lovely pension plan she must have. I shook my head in despair for what could have been.

Moments later, we stood in a quiet corner laughing at our youthful mistakes, our marriages and wondering what ever happened to all those handsome pilots with whom we were forbidden to fraternize. Caroline explained she had retired several years earlier however, after losing her husband of three decades, decided to return to work, accepting a ground job. We hugged and silently noticed how we had both changed. It was a brief-but-warm reunion broken up only by the boarding call.

Caroline returned to her position behind the check-in desk; glasses firmly back on the bridge of her nose as she scrutinized the documents of each passenger with the deportment of a school mistress. I waved goodbye, then walked down the Jetway to the Boeing 777 waiting to sweep me off the ground and over the Atlantic. I loved the smell of the exhaust-and-fuel mixture in the air as I made my way toward the open door of the plane. I needed no directions to my seat; in resignation, I lowered my head and turned right toward the rear of the aircraft.

Patiently I stood in the aisle while those ahead of me unburdened themselves of their winter coats and backpacks. Inching slowly forward, I knocked my hip on the armrest of row five. I halted at row nine while an elderly gentleman struggled to stow his luggage in the over-head bin. I smiled at the young student in row sixteen oblivious to the chaos of the oncoming hordes as her head bobbed about to the music erupting from the buds implanted in her ears. I nodded to the passengers sitting in the window and middle seats of row twenty-two before finally settling in next to them.

Conjecturing about the diversity of nationalities inching their way through the cabin towards their assigned location helped to ease my feeling of entrapment in what was becoming an increasingly stuffy aircraft, ripe with body odor. This once pleasurable guessing game now seemed blurred and almost irrelevant as cultural distinctions had eroded over the years. Europeans, although seldom glamorous, historically made an effort when they traveled. They were more formally attired than their American cousins, more courteous, easier to please. Today, everyone looked the same: grubby packhorses weighed down with bags of fast-food, holiday souvenirs, water bottles and People magazines. No one smiled, as though the entire process of flying was barely tolerable. I felt a pang of gratitude that I had crewed in the days when passengers were appreciative of the service and attention they received on board; when there was still a sense of wonderment about aviation.

My mind drifted back to the flying school at Brockenbrough Airport where I earned my pilot license, to the thrill of my first solo flight in a Piper Cherokee, to Hank and the many occasions on which we had made love — on the ground. I remembered being weighed and measured the first of each month as part of my stewardess obligations and the feel of the tight pencil skirt around my slender hips and the fitted jacket cinched around my waist. I recalled how captains would cock their hats with an arrogant, you-know-you-want-me smile while passing me in airport corridors. I reflected on the delight my fellow 'stews' and  I shared as we overnighted in the best hotels, ordered room service, experimented with each other’s make-up and exchanged secrets about the men in our lives. I tingled when I recaptured the excitement I felt each time I prepared for the first flight of the day, my uniform pressed, my hair in a tight, company-approved updo, my lipstick a luscious shade of Revlon “Cherries in the Snow” red. As the steady stream of humanity continued to parade by filling every available seat I took comfort in those sustainable, warm memories.

“Mrs. Winthrop, excuse me please.”

“Yes?” I looked up as Mrs. Mitchell, a commandingly tall and authoritative purser, leaned in to have a private word.

“Our flight today is not full up front so, after take-off, we would like to move you into first class. I understand from our senior staff member at the gate, Mrs. Vine, that you once worked for United. It’s nice to have you on board with us.” Her comment was sincerely delivered.

There is a God! I thought as I gushed an appreciative, “Thank you.” Flashing a knowing smile back, Mrs. Mitchell vanished down the aisle with a professional stride acquired over her years in service.

Moving forward was an unexpected, sweet treat. The air smelled fresher, my personal space was larger and the welcome from the crew, real or imagined, seemed more generous. The presentation of a Kir Royale confirmed I was no longer in coach as did the starter of smoked salmon followed by seared fillet of beef, sautéed artichokes and caramelized leeks. After several generous glasses of Chateauneuf du Pape 2008, I sighed as I nodded my head in silent agreement with my thoughts, “I could get used to this lifestyle again.”

I felt spoiled, pampered yet shamelessly deserving of all the goodies lavished upon the passenger now occupying seat 1A. The flight thus far had been a walk down memory lane, but my eyelids were getting heavy and I knew the land journey ahead would be testing, tiring and stressful — diametrically opposite to my relaxed trip across the Atlantic. I adjusted the sleeper bed to its full outstretched position, then switched off the reading lamp, pulled the complimentary blanket up to my chin and waited for the combination of alcohol and subdued cabin lighting to do their magic. Floating through my mind was the memory of Taylor’s voice when he spoke of Susan with such heart-wrenching sorrow as he remembered the moment when she looked at him with a vacant expression and implored, “Who are you?”

Of course, those words would forever be chiseled in the granite of his memory. I understood all too well.

Etched in my mind was a more heart-warming recollection but, nevertheless, touching. I reflected back several months to my previous holiday with Lisa when we visited the memorial home of one of Charlotte’s most beloved sons, the Reverend Billy Graham. While we walked through the extensive exhibition, I recalled the evening when my parents took me, at age twelve, to my first and only revival meeting. It was held in the Charlotte Coliseum, a shiny-domed sports arena large enough to welcome the crowds that had come to witness for Christ; or, in the case of my family, to see for themselves what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t long before Billy Graham’s powerful arms were lifted upwards to Heaven, fingers outstretched, calling all sinners to come forward to accept Jesus as their savior. I’m sure, over the years, I have strayed from many of the tenets espoused that day as I walked to the front of the arena in faith; but some have remained an invaluable part of my life.

As Lisa and I exited the museum, we followed the stone path to the grave of Ruth Graham, Billy’s life-long companion of forty years, who had recently passed away. The site was respectfully located in the shade of several mature trees while the space next to hers remained empty and waiting. Lisa and I stood in silence as we read the words Ruth had chosen to commemorate her life. Apparently, many years before, she and Billy had been delayed on a highway due to road works. At the end of the frustratingly-long stretch of motorway, she noticed a sign reading, “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” Ruth never forgot those simple words, so poignant that she left instructions for them to be chiseled on her headstone.

Inspired by Ruth, I made a mental note, there and then, of the words I wished to have inscribed on my marker. Etched in stone will be the outline of a well-worn suitcase with a baggage tag stating, “Thank you for the journey…Seat 1A.”

With that, my eyes closed in welcome sleep until what seemed like minutes later when the soft voice of the cabin attendant awakened me, “Mrs. Winthrop, would you care for something to drink, coffee, orange juice, water?”

I brightened momentarily and accepted a cup of fresh-brewed tea, instead. Adjusting my bed to an upright position, I proceeded to freshen my make-up in the privacy of my cocoon. I then lifted the window shade, smiled and took in the view of what could only be England — a pear-shaped island covered in luscious green fields crisscrossed with hedges and ancient stone walls and dotted with forests of what looked like fresh, green stalks of broccoli.

Shortly thereafter, a very British male voice could be heard throughout the cabin, “Ladies and gentlemen. In approximately twenty-five minutes we shall be landing at London’s Heathrow Airport.” I was home. I felt safe. My journey was at an end…but then again, I wondered, “Weren’t endings only new beginnings?”

Raised in the American south, educated in the west, Lauren de Lannier began exploring at an early age. Over the following decades, she travelled throughout Europe, Australasia, and the Middle East where she was retained as a tutor by the Saudi Royal Family.
Eventually settling in England, Lauren took up residence in London and proudly received dual citizenship. Leaving the paving stones of the capital for the green pastures of the countryside, she was inspired to write, To the Manor Drawn, published by Murdoch Books.
Her professional career includes editorships of several London business publications as well as contributing staff writer for numerous lifestyle magazines. Most recently, she has added the position of Enrichment Lecturer to her portfolio. Cruising the great waterways of Europe, the Rhone, Rhine and Danube, she delivers talks on art, culture and history.
After thirty wonderful years in England, she now lives in America in the embrace of “Taylor” – the inspiration for authoring her latest novel, Flying Solo.

Strange Formations

Not all the sky
behaves the same way—

a bank of clouds
shaped like a woman

turns over suddenly

a stricken airplane.

Tom McKeown has published in little magazines as well as in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Harvard Advocate, and The Yale Review. He has read at Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn (Estonia), and Trinity College, Dublin. His work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and the Library of Congress. He has written seven books. “Strange Formations” was previously published by Sumac Press.


by Blanche Abrams

Before I went to the Mess I made the excuse I wanted to get something out of my aeroplane and climbed into the cockpit; I did this, however, to be able to say good-bye to the old dear; and I really felt dreadfully sorry to part with her. I get very attached to aeroplanes, and I am one of those people who think that they aren’t so inanimate as we are told they are.
— Air Commander Charles Rumney Samson, British Naval Pioneer

The bones of the old metal hangar rattle in the Chicago wind. Though darkness is settling on the airport, Ed remains to complete the maintenance on Cessna 234ES. The plane is scheduled to fly at eight am the following morning.

Damn, this is the third time this week I’m working late, he reminds himself. Feeling a chill, he lifts his shoulders and sinks his head down for warmth. What is going on with me? I’ve got a massive headache and my stomach is churning. I can’t get sick right now. The cowling is in position over the engine but I can’t tighten all the Dzus fasteners. I just need to secure four on each side but I can only do one on each side. My hands are cramping from the cold.

“I’m exhausted. I’ll come in early tomorrow to finish the job,” he mutters, climbing into his truck. He barely reaches home when his stomach erupts and he spends all night vomiting. The following day, he calls in sick forgetting about the Cessna waiting for him in the hangar. 234ES with the unsecured fasteners. The fasteners meant to hold the cowling in place on the nose of the aircraft. Ed never leaves a job unfinished at the end of his shift. This is an exception.

Diffused dawn light illuminates the hangared planes waiting for pilots to infuse them with sky life. Flight instructor, Bill Foster, enters with his student, Jim Cairns. Bill, having gained extensive experience, teaching at the aviation school for over two years, is reputed to be one of the best pilots to train with. Though others burn out giving lessons above the earth at one hundred and twenty five miles per hour at the mercy of unpredictable novices, Bill still loves his office with a view. His reward is watching young men and women discover confidence and envision dreams in the sky.

Next to him, Jim Cairns, a vet with close-cropped hair and a stiff military air about him is beginning the preflight of 234ES. The hangar door slams and his body jerks. Damn. When is this going to stop? Why does returning to a life where I don’t have every day danger feel so stressful? I’ve got to shake this nonsense in order to be a pilot.

They are fortunate this aircraft is indoors. It means they can handle a majority of the aircraft safety checklist items more comfortably. Soon enough they will endure the wind chill factor when they perform the engine run up outside the hangar.

Two sets of eyes are better than one and they continue checking the items on the aircraft as required.

Ann, the flight school dispatcher interrupts them. “Bill, you’ve got a phone call.”

“Could you please take a message? We’re preparing for our flight.”

“It’s your wife, Bill. She sounds like she’s not feeling well.” Ann knew Bill’s wife was having a difficult pregnancy. Ann was also well aware of the company policy that each instructor remain with their student during preflight. She makes an exception by calling Bill to the phone.

Bill hesitates a moment then says, “I’ll take it.”

“Jim, you continue the preflight. I’ll be back soon.” He trusts his student who he frequently observes handling this procedure.

He doesn’t intend spending ten minutes on the phone with his wife but she lost their first child two years ago and this pregnancy is also a concern. Now, Bill realizes, because I made an exception and took the call, we’re behind schedule. This will cause a backup for all students scheduled in the aircraft for the remainder of the day. We need to get airborne as soon as possible.

“Did you complete the checklist?” he asks.

“All done.” Jim answers.

Unknown to Bill, Jim neglects to inspect the cowling fasteners. To do so it’s necessary to twist each one to be certain it’s secure. Another exception.

Moving the aircraft outside, they finish the remaining procedures, start the engine and call Air Traffic Control (ATC) for their instrument clearance.

After take off, the pilots enter clouds eight hundred feet above the ground and are ascending to their assigned altitude of six thousand feet. Twenty minutes into the flight a severe ticking sound invades the cockpit. Bill glances at Jim whose body language shrieks, What the hell is that? He appears as if no physical movement is possible. As though a metal rod is thrust through his being, pinning him to the chair. Only his eyes are active as they dart from one gauge to another.

Bill slips into emergency automatic pilot control mode, handling this as if he expects it. His eyes scan the instrument panel in search of clues. However, an adrenaline rush is occurring within him causing a hyper alertness. His student in the left seat will not sense his concern. There is an old saying among flight instructors, You only sweat on the right side of your face so the student won’t see.

“Jim, can you locate anything abnormal that might be causing the ticking?”

“No. All the gauges appear normal.”

“I agree. Now, what do you think we should do about this?”

Jim flinches nervously. As a soldier I had weapons. I could protect myself and others. I knew what to do. In a cockpit I’m helpless. He manages to sputter, “I don’t know, but something is wrong. We need to do something.”

“Do you think,” Bill says, “We should trouble shoot the problem at one hundred and twenty five miles an hour inside clouds or should we land as soon as possible and then analyze the situation? Oh, and while you’ve been distracted by the noise, you’ve lost your heading. You need to continue flying the airplane no matter what else is happening.”

“Okay, okay. I think we need to call ATC and request radar vectors to the closest airport.”

“That’s right, but ask for one that has an instrument approach as that’s how we filed our flight plan.”

He keys the mic. “Chicago Center this is 234ES. We need to amend our routing to the closest airport.” He chews on his bottom lip.

“Jim, you forget we need one with an instrument approach and remember you only report your last three end numbers, 4ES,” Bill chimes in.

“This is 4ES requesting routing to the closest airport with an instrument approach.” Though still quite rigid, Jim’s perspiration is very active.

“4ES, what is the reason for a diversion? Are you declaring an emergency?”

He glances at Bill, “What should I say?”

“The answer is yes. When an aircraft is in distress it receives priority handling over all other traffic.”

“Won’t that get us in trouble if the FAA deems it wasn’t an emergency?”

“No, and right now you don’t have time to think about anything but flying this airplane and declaring an emergency.”

“Affirmative, Chicago Center. 4ES is declaring an emergency.” His voice raises an octave.

“Roger, 4ES. I’m showing you halfway between DuPage and Rockford Airports. Both have an instrument landing system. Which one would you prefer?”

The incessant ticking is like a bomb. Jim can’t think. He robotically angles his head toward Bill with a need for human guidance.

Bill responds, “Based on our flight plan information we know the wind is out of the east so there is a headwind going to DuPage and it will take longer. There is a tailwind going to Rockford which will decrease our flight time. Tell him we want vectors to the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Rockford.”

“4ES wants vectors to Rockford.”

“Roger 4ES. Turn left heading 270. Maintain three thousand feet. These are radar vectors for the Rockford Runway 19 ILS approach. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Tell him the exact emergency is unknown at this time. We suspect a malfunction of some kind and we want to be on the ground to inspect the airplane.”

After the radio transmission, Jim takes a deep breath. Calm down. Calm down. He instructs himself. I need to prepare for the approach. Altitude, heading, airspeed. Be precise. The stress and constant ticking unnerve him. He’s forgotten all previously learned basics. As he struggles to get one under control,he loses track and starts again. His eyes jump all over the instruments, spending too much time chasing needles, resulting in the airplane zig zagging across the sky. The altitude is too high and as he straightens it out he drifts off course. Then he adjusts his course and neglects his airspeed.

“Jim. Get that airspeed under control. If you’re too fast, we’ll overshoot the runway. If you’re too slow, we’ll land short of it. You better get your poop in a pile.”

Jim would smile if he wasn’t so close to having a stroke.

“Bill, I’m losing it. I’m losing it.”

“I have the aircraft.” Bill says.

“You have the aircraft,” Jim responds as he lets go of the wheel and melts into his seat.

After landing, Bill taxies into the terminal area. “Jim, start the shutdown procedure.” Jim flips switches randomly.

“Slow down. I know it’s been a tough flight but we’re not done yet. Pull out your checklist and perform the sequence in the correct order.”

Outside the airplane, they take a deep breath. This air is preferable to the stench-filled cabin. Now, the assessment of what went wrong has to be determined. If it’s a minor maintenance issue, they will fly the aircraft back. If not, a flight will be sent to pick them up or they might need to rent a car and check into a hotel for the night.

Bill starts on the left side of the fuselage and Jim on the right. They reach the mangled section at the same time. The front end of the cowling has been chewed by the propeller. Airflow coming into the engine escaped out the back end of the cowling, causing it to pivot into the propeller arc. The design requires all eight fasteners to secure it. It should have crashed through the windshield incapacitating both pilots.

They stare immobilized.

The aircraft wasn’t so inanimate after all. It chose to make an exception.

Blanche Abrams short stories are published in numerous literary anthologies. She has been active in the literary community for over thirty years organizing writing events and establishing Poet Laureate programs in two cities. Her memberships include the Sonora Writers Group, WOW (Women on Writing) and being Chair for The Tuolumne Writers Retreat. ( Her current projects are completing a novel covering forty years in the aviation industry and a collection of short stories.

Waiting in Airports

There it was, the white gum wrapper. Stark. Assuming a grand importance in its
contrast with the muted maroon carpet of the E Concourse. An unaccountable breeze sent the wrapper scurrying along the empty corridor. And she knew that if she were to turn, he would not be there. There would only be the usual handful of people, off in the distance, hurrying down the midnight corridor to claim their luggage from some far removed carousel.

He would not be there.

He would be gone. With him her purse. Her passport. Her identity.

She fought back the temptation to panic. This had happened before. He always said he would be waiting just there next to the fountain outside the restrooms. But, he never was. Not in Frankfort, Seoul, Xian, or even Nashville.

There was always this quick empty feeling—what should she do? Call someone. Who? To what purpose? Always the question: “What airport is this?”

Always before the tilt had righted itself. This time she knew it would not. Even if she were to search, this time she would not find him reading in some out of the way alcove. This time…

— Jean Emerson

Jean Emerson is a prize winning poet who hosted the Willow Glen Poetry Readings in San José from the mid-70s until 2010. She is somewhat of a poetry conference junkie, having traveled to Aspen, Colorado, Montegufoni Castle, near Florence, the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Spoleto, Italy and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she studied with Gerald Stern, Grace Cavalieri, Naomi Shahib Nye, Marie Howe, W. S. Merwin, Robert Hass, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tony Barnstone. She is proudest of the many poetry books Jacaranda published under her editorship. She has three books of poetry: Not Alone, by Bellbird Press, Cycles of the Moonvine by Forest Woods Media Productions and Lessons from a Castle by the Edwin Mellen Press. She has one book of prose, A Little Help From Your Friends — A Guide for Small Writing Groups, which is the fruit of her Master’s Thesis and was released by The Bunny and the Crocodile Press of Annapolis, Md. Presently, Jean Emerson is focusing on memoir writing, and meeting with a group bi-weekly.