Thursday, September 4, 2008

Taking Flight

Nonfiction by Everett Marx

I always knew that I could fly. Not that I ever learned how, mind you; I would never have left the grip of ground if I had taken the desperate route of study, practice, and fevered comparison with the success of others. No, I just flew the way I could not avoid knowing how.

Picture a long, narrow, rectangular front yard, a football field with personality wedged between a small house and the gravel road. Along one side of the yard ran a row of thick hedge. I could sit in its scratchy shadows hugging my knees for hours while pondering whether “hedge” referred to this particular species of branched greenness itself or the way it had been seeded in a neat row, like children, then watered and watched and clipped until it could fend for itself, a grown-up wall.

Jutting out from the secluded hedge was a maple tree. The way it interrupted the hedge had complicated more than one football game, as a panicked runner cornered nearby invariably sought its protection from would-be tacklers, feigning left and right in the hope of luring his pursuers the wrong way round the trunk, leaving himself to squirt free to the goal line. I judged this tactic deeply immoral, an insult to the game. I thought it an insult to the maple too, perhaps because of the tree’s secret service as the watcher of my flights.

There I would stand alone, but it was not normal standing. I only flew when there was a gathering breeze, a sibilant swirl that seemed to be leaking out of a secret fold of the earth itself. I knew that all direction had shifted into reverse whenever this hidden but wholly natural spring of air encircled me as I walked alone, shoulder-first into the headwind of night, overseen only by cold, mute, beautiful stars. This was my invitation upward. To now probe the thick, glazed grass with my heels would surely stake me for good to the ground. However, the gift of flight was here gained by pulling my warm red weight up slowly through my ankles, yes, past the dip of my knees, yes, through the looping whirl of my dizzy stomach, yes, hell yes, into my chest, a chest suddenly cloven wide with sweet breath, past the cheeks prickled with the ecstasy of a rose abloom with thorns and out into the thick glazed grass of my head and finally up beyond me, where I followed.

I seized this momentary gravity through abandonment. I did nothing to spoil it, and by nothing I mean not even the thought of doing nothing, for that is just the jamming of another set of heels into another plot of earth and that can never end in flight.

It has been suggested in some quarters that what I then managed amounted to gliding, to bumbling into some freakish slipstream, for it lacked the ‘self-fueled velocity and direction of true flight.’ This pale rationalization is of the same stripe as the cowardice that rings a boy round a tree trunk to avoid a cathartic tackle. No, my friends, I have always known I could fly, and what I have always known has been true. I have always flown over swirls of moonlit green ground and veins of crystal blue creek.

But also, and sadly, I know this. Unless you have lain alone in the stream of midair pondering the glitter of stars upon a stretch of gravel and wished to sleepily plop into that smooth pocket of distinctness, thereafter to be carried happily home and shown by the gravel road to its dutifully impressed mother, unless you too have done this, you are unfit to discuss the nature of flight, and it might even be dangerous for you to hear about it.


Sarah said...

This wasn't imagery, but memories spoken in someone else's voice; I idly wondered who they were when I watched the stars above.

On second reading (and a third, may have been more), it took on a Bill Bryson quality, a voice and ease you could listen to for hours.

Candace said...

Gorgeous, Everett! Loved the hedge analogy. And the "sibilant swirl" - swoon!