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“Phone Notes from Dizzying Heights” by Beth Mulcahy

Have you ever watched the sunset at cloud level? Watched it dip below the cloudline while you were right there with it, right there in it?

There is enough fog in the afternoon to necessitate lights on the runway as the plane takes off. The drops of rain on the aircraft’s windows are the beads of a child’s necklace - different sizes strung in lines down the pane. We accelerate faster and faster, waiting for the winged vessel, on which we are tightly packed sardines, to take flight. We brace ourselves to leave the safety and security of the ground for this machine to fly us out of here. To another place where we will pretend it is a different time, where things will be different.

Driving down the runway through the mist, past the flaming torches of runway lights. It feels like we have been running forever, like we will be running forever and getting nowhere, like how we keep doing the same thing every day and it never gets easier. We are stopping and moving and stopping again. The vibration of the engine is meditative if you close your eyes and imagine that your breaths are a force against the battering of time and space.

Then suddenly in a blast of loud vibration, we take off.

Next time out the window is all clouds and sun at the same time shining bright white and the child’s beaded raindrop necklace is gone, blown away in the force of flight.

Everyday from the earth, I look up to see what the sky has to offer. It always has something for me to notice but nothing like watching the sunset from cloud level. Not like how the earth looks from above the clouds. Like looking down at it through the wisps of them. Will we ever get so far off the earth that we can’t see it anymore?

Flying is like disappearing for a while. It is unreachable. Babies cry. People stow items, sigh, settle themselves, make small talk, click belts into place, open books, lean back. And everyone becomes unreachable. We are all unreachable. Alone with others. Alone with ourselves. Some people sit where they can see the earth get smaller. Some people sit with their thoughts in silence and others drown it out with noise in their ears.

The cloud cover increases. What do people see in these clouds? What’s hiding in the wide open sky? It feels so different to approach the clouds from above, to descend in and through and to different air, air that lies below the cloudline. We can’t see the earth from this side of the clouds but we still believe it is there.

As we descend through the cloudline, I’m just trying to be where I am. I’m trying not to think about how it feels when the things we love are gone. Deep breath, look out the window and do a cloud check to figure out where we are in relation to the cloudline now, in relation to the earth. From dizzying heights, the city below looks like a maze of bright lights, weaving in and out and around. The earth looks as dizzying as the height feels.

The sky is never off-kilter like an overhead light that glitches on and off from bright to dim to flickering until you give up and turn it off. You can’t live under something so unstable, so unsettling. So off kilter. It sets the mood and kills it. But the sky is always there. We can’t give up on it, even when it looks foreboding. There is no kilter to clouds, no right or wrong way to hang in the sky. Clouds are thoughts, they just are, without judgment. The sky isn't ours to question but to live under as best we can and sometimes to fly through and look at the earth from above, like perspective. The sky tells us and shows us and we watch and listen. From above the cloudline, we can’t see the ground anymore but we know it’s there and we will land on it again, eventually.

Beth Mulcahy is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet whose work has appeared in various journals. Her writing bridges gaps between generations and self, hurt and healing. Beth lives in Ohio with her husband and two children and works for a company that provides technology to people without natural speech. Her latest publications can be found here:


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