James Dickey Poems >>
Falling

A 29-year-old stewardess fell ... to her death tonight when she was swept through an emergency door that suddenly sprang open ... The body ... was found ... three hours after the accident.

   -New York Times



The states when they black out and lie there rolling  when they turn
To something transcontinental  move by  drawing moonlight out of the great
One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip  some sleeper next to
An engine is groaning for coffee  and there is faintly coming in
Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks
Of trays  she rummages for a blanket  and moves in her slim tailored
Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew


The door down with a silent blast from her lungs  frozen  she is black
Out finding herself  with the plane nowhere and her body taking by the throat
The undying cry of the void  falling  living  beginning to be something
That no one has ever been and lived through  screaming without enough air
Still neat  lipsticked  stockinged  girdled by regulation  her hat
Still on  her arms and legs in no world  and yet spaced also strangely
With utter placid rightness on thin air  taking her time  she holds it
In many places  and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems
To slow  she develops interest  she turns in her maneuverable body


To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her
Self  in low body-whistling wrapped intensely  in all her dark dance-weight
Coming down from a marvellous leap  with the delaying, dumfounding ease
Of a dream of being drawn  like endless moonlight to the harvest soil
Of a central state of one's country  with a great gradual warmth coming
Over her  floating  finding more and more breath in what she has been using
For breath  as the levels become more human  seeing clouds placed honestly
Below her left and right  riding slowly toward them  she clasps it all
To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways  and
Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide  wider and suck
All the heat from the cornfields  can go down on her back with a feeling
Of stupendous pillows stacked under her  and can turn  turn as to someone
In bed  smile, understood in darkness  can go away  slant  slide
Off tumbling  into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread
Or whirl madly on herself  in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth
Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon.  There is time to live
In superhuman health  seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing
An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it  arriving
In a square town  and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches
The moon by its one shaken side  scaled, roaming silver  My God it is good
And evil  lying in one after another of all the positions for love
Making  dancing  sleeping  and now cloud wisps at her no
Raincoat  no matter  all small towns brokenly brighter from inside
Cloud  she walks over them like rain  bursts out to behold a Greyhound
Bus shooting light through its sides  it is the signal to go straight
Down like a glorious diver  then feet first  her skirt stripped beautifully
Up  her face in fear-scented cloths  her legs deliriously bare  then
Arms out  she slow-rolls over  steadies out  waits for something great
To take control of her  trembles near feathers  planes head-down
The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head  gold eyes the insight-
eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops  a taste for chicken overwhelming
Her  the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars
Freight trains  looped bridges  enlarging the moon racing slowly
Through all the curves of a river  all the darks of the midwest blazing
From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white  the smothering chickens
Huddle  for over them there is still time for something to live
With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop  a hurtling  a fall
That is controlled  that plummets as it wills  turns gravity
Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon  shining
New Powers  there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing
But the whole night  time for her to remember to arrange her skirt
Like a diagram of a bat  tightly it guides her  she has this flying-skin
Made of garments  and there are also those sky-divers on tv  sailing
In sunlight  smiling under their goggles  swapping batons back and forth
And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving
Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion  white teeth  nowhere
She is screaming  singing hymns  her thin human wings spread out
From her neat shoulders  the air beast-crooning to her  warbling
And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world  now
She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape  watching it lose
And gain  get back its houses and peoples  watching it bring up
Its local lights  single homes  lamps on barn roofs  if she fell
Into water she might live  like a diver  cleaving  perfect  plunge


Into another  heavy silver  unbreathable  slowing  saving
Element: there is water  there is time to perfect all the fine
Points of diving  feet together  toes pointed  hands shaped right
To insert her into water like a needle  to come out healthily dripping
And be handed a Coca-Cola  there they are  there are the waters
Of life  the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir  so let me begin
To plane across the night air of Kansas  opening my eyes superhumanly
Bright  to the damned moon  opening the natural wings of my jacket
By Don Loper  moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water
One cannot just fall  just tumble screaming all that time  one must use
It  she is now through with all  through all  clouds  damp  hair
Straightened  the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing
New darks  new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos


And night  a gradual warming  a new-made, inevitable world of one's own
Country  a great stone of light in its waiting waters  hold  hold out
For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body
And fly  and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned
Water  stored up for her for years  the arms of her jacket slipping
Air up her sleeves to go  all over her? What final things can be said
Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night
Air  to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself
Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward  the blazing-bare lake
Her skirts neat  her hands and face warmed more and more by the air
Rising from pastures of beans  and under her  under chenille bedspreads
The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding
On the scratch-shining posts of the bed  dreaming of female signs
Of the moon  male blood like iron  of what is really said by the moan
Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight  passing
Over brush fires  burning out in silence on little hills  and will wake
To see the woman they should be  struggling on the rooftree to become
Stars: for her the ground is closer  water is nearer  she passes
It  then banks  turns  her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls
Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must
Do something with water  fly to it  fall in it  drink it  rise
From it  but there is none left upon earth  the clouds have drunk it back
The plants have sucked it down  there are standing toward her only
The common fields of death  she comes back from flying to falling
Returns to a powerful cry  the silent scream with which she blew down
The coupled door of the airliner  nearly  nearly losing hold
Of what she has done  remembers  remembers the shape at the heart
Of cloud  fashionably swirling  remembers she still has time to die
Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour
Of cornfields  and have enough time to kick off her one remaining
Shoe with the toes  of the other foot  to unhook her stockings
With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair
Near death  when the body will assume without effort any position
Except the one that will sustain it  enable it to rise  live
Not die  nine farms hover close  widen  eight of them separate, leaving
One in the middle  then the fields of that farm do the same  there is no
Way to back off  from her chosen ground  but she sheds the jacket
With its silver sad impotent wings  sheds the bat's guiding tailpiece
Of her skirt  the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse  the intimate
Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost



Of a virgin  sheds the long windsocks of her stockings  absurd
Brassiere  then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming
Off her: no longer monobuttocked  she feels the girdle flutter  shake
In her hand  and float  upward her clothes rising off her ascending
Into cloud  and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe
Like a dumb bird  and now will drop in  soon  now will drop


In like this  the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas  down from all Heights  all levels of American breath  layered in the lungs from the frail
Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly
And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after
Her last superhuman act  the last slow careful passing of her hands
All over her unharmed body  desired by every sleeper in his dream:
Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart's blood
Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves
Arisen at sunrise  the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn
Toward clouds  all feel something  pass over them as she passes
Her palms over her long legs  her small breasts  and deeply between
Her thighs  her hair shot loose from all pins  streaming in the wind
Of her body  let her come openly  trying at the last second to land
On her back  This is it  this
                         All those who find her impressed
In the soft loam  gone down  driven well into the image of her body
The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep
In her mortal outline  in the earth as it is in cloud  can tell nothing
But that she is there  inexplicable  unquestionable  and remember
That something broke in them as well  and began to live and die more
When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth
Caught her  interrupted her maiden flight  told her how to lie she cannot
Turn  go away  cannot move  cannot slide off it and assume another
Position  no sky-diver with any grin could save her  hold her in his arms
Plummet with her  unfold above her his wedding silks  she can no longer
Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife
Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls  or all the back-breaking whores
Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one
Breath  it is all gone  and yet not dead  not anywhere else
Quite  lying still in the field on her back  sensing the smells
Of incessant growth try to lift her  a little sight left in the corner
Of one eye  fading  seeing something wave  lies believing
That she could have made it  at the best part of her brief goddess
State  to water  gone in headfirst  come out smiling  invulnerable
Girl in a bathing-suit ad  but she is lying like a sunbather at the last
Of moonlight  half-buried in her impact on the earth  not far
From a railroad trestle  a water tank  she could see if she could
Raise her head from her modest hole  with her clothes beginning
To come down all over Kansas  into bushes  on the dewy sixth green
Of a golf course  one shoe  her girdle coming down fantastically
On a clothesline, where it belongs  her blouse on a lightning rod:


Lies in the fields  in this field  on her broken back as though on
A cloud she cannot drop through  while farmers sleepwalk without
Their women from houses  a walk like falling toward the far waters
Of life  in moonlight  toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms
Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands  that tragic cost
Feels herself go  go toward  go outward  breathes at last fully
Not  and tries  less  once  tries  tries  ah, god-