And in Honor of Amelia Earhart’s Birthday Last Week


So I wrote this admittedly brilliant little poem in a white heat on the train in to my summer job many years ago. It is one of the few poems that I only sent out once before it got published. Sometimes the magic just happens. I originally wrote it as a prose poem and that is how it was originally published. In the coming book it will appear as free verse. I like it better this way. There is more nuance with real line breaks. It is rare that I get chills reading something I wrote, but this one is special.


Flying Lessons with Amelia


I met her the day of her first crash.

The stars in my eyes reflected the flash

of the cameras, the sun kissing her

silver pocket compact. The photos,

shades of grey, didn’t do her justice.

Storm clouds only capture spring

by reversing its leaves, tearing them

away. At all altitudes she eluded capture.

In her plane, the cockpit hot with her

concentration, she parsed the spectrum for me.

You will be flying through

the chandelier of heaven. The crystal is blinding.

You must fly with eyes open. You must

be prepared for any hue. We began

with asphalt, the grey of landings and rebirths,

aged embracing arm of the runway,

creased by time, that cumulus indigo

umbrella holding us down.

Someday I will fly right through.


I was not her navigator. I did not drink.

I did not charm or exude animal scents

the pink of tongues and inner ears. I did not

read the stars for her. I read only the lessons

she gave me: airship lessons, the silk grey

skin of a winged beast she knew intimately,

silk white lessons of sky. But white had to wait.

Green followed grey, kelly pine jasper,

the mustard green tips of leaves

pawing at our uplift, the midnight green of dusk

landings, verdancy so gloomed there was no telling

landing strip from the shadow of the ship,

our wings jet branches gathering darkness in.

Ebony comes later, she laughed at my awe

as my mouth opened on this night,

whalecub learning to swallow sea.

First you must finger gold.


I never fathomed the depths of my avarice

until we flew into sun, the goggles she despised

shielding us only from its molten grasp,

not from its flames licking the edges

of things, our gauges and leather gauntlets,

the straying lock of her hair peering out

from the leather helmet. Both our noses shone,

two bloodhounds following bullioned muzzles

to the end, flying west, into noonday, solarium

studded with citrine, topaz, blinking Midas tears.

The sun veered off our wingtip, my voracity

seeping away into the stratified marble, in

to its aquamarine veins. Her wrists

when the sleeves of her leather jacket rode up.

The struts of this plane when the ivory spider

sky wove us new, a web for wind to climb

all the way into the center. Sometimes

we flew into cloud, that turbulent nothing

clawing at our wings, hissing hushed threats

to fling us down against the serrated curve of earth

She was never afraid of falling.

Another kind of flight. Another airstream

leading to another place.

Some days the clouds refused to end, pure

immortality billowing about us

like anger. But purity is illusion, she said,

a wall of water you could pierce. Open your eyes

wide. Wider. Fly right through.


Blue was her forté, azure stones

seen from distances, purple mountaintops

from above. But purple is imprecise.

Say rather, the ache that seeps into everything

unbendable. Clouds and grass lose hue

and youth as they lose the sun, growing brittle,

vanishing. When each lesson ended, she too

vanished, after paying me a smile and a slap

on the back. Alone in the hangar, I rested

my hands like wings on the Electra’s wings,

imagined myself wind, the ever-present

hand of air flinging her through space. I became

the airship singing, “I am her destiny, spinning

propeller pulling her forward. If she moves

too slowly, she will break upon my invisible blades.

If she is quick enough however—

O if she is quick—she will fly right through.”


Each time she crossed an ocean, I prayed

in glasses of water, gulping down waves, dreaming

desert. I prayed by inhaling headlines, whole

paragraphs of storm. I prayed the grey

asphalt arm reaching out to catch her.

Shallow sea. Fair winds. Safe landing.

I told her my desert dreams, the cracked argent

lips of summer singing unspeakable endings.

What does it mean, O my master?

You have not known silver until you’ve soared

between desert and a full moon. Tongue falls silent.

Music falls in sheets to the dunes, arpeggios of sand.


Nightflight was the last lesson,

a leisurely voyage down corridors of unlit coal

rubbing itself off on our wings. To become night,

you must let go of everything. Every time

you embrace it, you must empty your pockets

and hands. Plunging into cold volcanic depths of

sky requires valor, resolute defiance of the grip

of blindness pressed against your eyes, of the lure

of the stars you cannot fly to. Nothing.

Nothing can save you here, nothing

but the Electra beneath her tan hands

with their raised blue veins, nothing but

the changing tint of grey in the curtained cloud,

penumbra lightening in blinks of tired dark eyes.

Night was not time but distance, an endless road

winding through itself and more of itself,

narrowing as I nodded and fought to wake.

You sleep from fear, but someday you will keep

this vigil too, in the long tunnel toward morning.


Never in her lifetime could I keep that vigil

whole, a faithful watchman, never

until her last flight, without me,

when she slammed into sea

the way I always slammed into quartz white

day, facetted and sparking seed-suns to burn

and stab our eyes. There is a place called horizon

where gold and deep blue lie down together, fuse.

The nose of my Electra aims to be a point

upon that line. When I fly now, years later

without her, I am always flying right through.


Spilecki, Susan. “Flying Lessons with Amelia,” Quarter After Eight 5. Fall 1998.