Some Kind of Language Lesson

Tall Larry, a cowboy without a hat, reached for the handset and the room fell to a hush. “OK, I’ve got some news for ya’ll, and it ain’t that pretty…” Our plane was right there, our pilots ready to go, but we were missing one crew member and couldn’t leave without them. Someone in the crowd interrupted, “I can do it.” Larry’s response: “You’re killin’ me, sir.” The absent crew member was still in Burbank. We’d either have to wait three more hours for Burbank to arrive or scramble to get a Vegas-based flight attendant to help out on their off day. Larry hoped for the latter, but wasn’t promising anything until someone stood before him.

The Las Vegas airport is always, to me anyhow, a visceral experience. The standard buzz of a busy airport, sure, but add to it the low ceilings, smallish seats, and narrow walkways and suddenly it’s a claustrophobic tunnel where actual respite can only be found in a captain’s chair facing a Wheel of Fortune or Crazy 7s slot machine. I fell prey, per usual. But the beating was a quick one—ten minutes and forty bucks later I’m staring at three cold eyes, locked in my final losing pull. All memories of me, long gone. The beast was sleeping again. The attendant gave me a can-only-sit-there-if-you’re-playing look and I feigned a search in my wallet. “Fuckin’ asshole,” I thought to myself, looking at the flashy machine. I never even got to spin the big wheel.

Turns out Larry got his wish, which was ours too. The final flight attendant sauntered into the gate area in slow-motion. Her long red hair bounced above her confident stride, her blue eye shadow complimenting the subtle red of her painted lips. Crisp uniform, well-used roller bag in tow, a Starbucks in her free hand. Larry caught sight of her, clicked the intercom, paused pregnantly before saying, “Well well. Wouldn’t ya know it. Looks like it’s happening, folks.” We stood up and cheered. Clapped and hollered yes! High-fived strangers. At least one person cried. Turns out we’d be in Baltimore tonight after all. As for connections, well, whatever. Southwest’s comedy of errors had turned into my reality. I wasn’t laughing, but I wasn’t angry anymore, either. Just going with the flow after making a conscious effort to give in.

And just like any sort of natural disaster that brings folks together, the plane was alive with conversation between people who’d otherwise be invisible to each other. More joy when one of the flight attendants offered us one free cocktail. We hit the runway, took off, and settled in. I pulled out Language Lesson by Ashaki M. Jackson, a book of poetry I am in the process of reviewing. The fellow in the middle seat next to me, a Navy guy who told me he was feeling a bit light-headed after patrons at the airport bar bought him two Long Island iced teas and a shot of Jack, asked what I was doing. He then told me he writes poetry too and would I mind taking a look. “Sure, man, “ I said. “We got four and a half hours to kill, may as well do it with some poetry.” And since he couldn’t access the Google doc where he kept his work, he transcribed a few pieces from memory onto his iPhone and passed it over. “It’s not exactly the same, but it’s close,” he said unapologetically.

His work was ripe with rhyme. A-B-A-B, mostly. Traditional form, Victorian influence. Used words like o’er and ’twas and cliché water, cemetery, and death metaphors. Not the sort of poetry I write, not the sort I review, not the sort my friends publish in journals. But definitely the sort of stuff we all learned in school. He and I talked poetic strategy, about lines, about slant-rhyme and conflict, about music and enjambment, about being true to yourself while also understanding how words may be read by readers. After I took the last sip of my rum tonic, I told him he was an obvious romantic. He blushed. The woman sitting in the window seat leaned over and held up her can of Fat Tire. “Cheers to romance!” she said. “To romance,” we responded. I crunched a piece of ice still sweet from the lingering Bacardi. I thought of something summery, a Caribbean island beach. Bare feet and forgotten lists. A place where life’s worries don’t really matter anymore. A place where all that matters is right now.

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