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poetry

Cockpit Voice Recorder

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France’s accident investigation agency has abandoned a search for the ‘black boxes’ from the Air France passenger jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.—BBC, 20 August 2009

    1.

The sea hadn’t risen, but dropped,

Swirling up through the suction tube

Deposited—one day, unexpectedly—by the sun

Like a giant, blazing mosquito.

 

Water dripped from overhangs,

Braided through troughs, draining

Away from mountain ranges, and left

Seaweed bladders, clustered, like green penises.

 

The age of aviation was gone

And now they accessed heavens through tunnels

That had diminished their oceans,

The clear, oval walls, salt-frosted.

 

Plane crashes were events of the past

And he considered them as you would

Canvas of a wagon train set ablaze or

Sherman bowties of the rails, from your ages.

 

From the last disaster they’d recover

The cockpit voice recorder.

2.

Halve a peapod—stiff, fibrous spine,

Green berries dangling  on curlicews—

And you have their navigation device:

Helmets networked to a data vine.

 

Sometimes he sucked the spongy

Wind muffler on the built-in microphone

Like a pacifier as they trekked

Fishstrewn hills, cuttlefish draped

 

Like shawls on the horns

Of  uprooted trees. Spurts of white noise,

Overtures to messages

From the lead recovery team, interrupted

 

His thoughts. Ganged, ambulating,

They struggled up and slid off

Slopes, butt-first, like sled teams, carpets

Of kelp—barnacle-studded—thumping  underneath.

 

On an outcropping they spotted

It sitting, and halted.

3.

He’d seen a hurdy gurdy once

In an engraving on a digitized page

Of a dictionary, a cylinder grafted

To an oblong, though this lacked

 

A crank to coax the sound out—“a piping,

Mesmerizing drone,” it was described;

In fact he had never heard such.

He squatted down, his finger poked

 

The rust-burned skin: printed,

Numbered instructions on its front were rendered

Hieroglyphs by corrosion. He fantasized

Voices within, suspended in numerical

 

Limbo as they coursed through protocol

The moments before the inevitable compressed

The thinning wedge of hope to converging

Lines in the pie chart version of their death.

 

On shoulder straps, in a basket,

They carried it back to the lab.

4.

A proliferation of amazement

Makes for a kind of indifference.

The eyes adjust to prolonged exposure

To brilliance by normalizing colors.

 

View each day through the lens

Of a birthday, or as you would walking out

On the morning after a hurricane,

When every scene carries the weight

 

Of a promise, a celebration, or as only

Sunlight bouncing off havoc—

Treetops bunched in the street—

Can rattle perception,

 

And you familiarize the exceptional.

Living in a capitol you grow blind

To monuments; mythologies turn

Indistinguishable from the furnishings.

 

And so the voice described

Its infinite day in the afterlife.

5.

In the middle of the stream

Of its words a name was dropped

And its effect was a rock’s

On a current. Everything else he heard

 

Was shaped by it—language damaged

At its obstruction, or smoothly glossed over it.

As the voice droned

His imagination wandered

 

As if newly born, trailing umbilicus

Between its legs, dazzled by sights

Dangerous in their potential as a box

Of matches, after witnessing one strike:

 

He saw a place, intimate and remote at once,

Without history, yet a sense of time running

Away, a garden where green wheels

Of corruption were spun by wind in dry grass.

 

It slipped from him, that name, in saliva;

A prophesy of a kind, “America.”

6.

After the flood, or at least

When water unlaced its fingers

From the streets of London, New York,

Calcutta, and the wobbling ring

 

Of reflected moonlight was pewter

On the sidewalks, in the moment

You’ve heard this, you’ll have been

Made aware of your future.

 

My words were  made forward-compatible

At a time when we were losing

Languages daily, idioms that had been

Mothers to culture were left

 

To spend their remaining days

In the shade of fanning palm leaves,

In straining wicker beside

Tables, each with a half glass of water.

 

I have much to talk to you on

But I am losing the delivery platform.


  7.

They found a file of pictures

On a memory device in a plastic

Snap case lodged among intestinal

Wire and mircoprocessors’

 

Tridents and nodes. Pixel integrity

Had decomposed and, scrolled

On the monitor, some had grown black

With only a pale quadrant of light—

 

Like a square nimbus—at the frame’s

Edge. One showed a young woman

At a mirrored vanity, combing, shot

By a mini-cam through a pinhole.

 

Others were scans: a product manual

Of an airport security installation

That launched jets of air at passengers’

Bodies and found explosives.

 

There was an entire treatise,

On warfare and the cortex.

8.

The voice had begun to revert to sonar

Pings like those it had been programmed

To emit when activated

By disaster. Through flooded canyons

 

And off the flanks of leviathans

It had broadcast these until power

Diminished, and the pings grew episodic,

Weak and eventually vanished.

 

He wrote: you see me from

Your dark side of the road

Walk out of the night

And back into it—shadow to shadow—

 

In the interim, glowing under

A gas station portico

Whose four light posts are

Four blazing heads, my dress around

 

Me illuminated, my body outlined

In it, as if wrapped in a flag.

 

Three Dots