Flying coast to coast on a winter day,
my husband sleeping uneasy at my shoulder,
I look to the Rockies below our window
and realize I’ve forgotten how mountains form.
This despite freshman geology,
and the best efforts of one Dr. Tanner.
It’s something about stress, I think, and friction,
unhappy bodies rubbing against each other
until there’s no more give, and one gives up,
then laugh at my easy simplification.
Hard to believe there was a week or two
when I actually knew the nuances
of continental drift, a formula
to chart how far a stream would flow off course.
That formula, of course, has long been lost,
but when I spot the streams, wrenched awkwardly
as scoliotic spines, I remember
learning the term for the crooks and changes
a river makes, or rather, relearning,
since the word’s the same one laymen use:
its meandersnot technical at all,
and strangely gentle for what looks violent,
at least from where I sit, looking over
the end result of years of slow corrections,
the water still fighting against the banks
to find the simplest path.
Above my seat
a screen displays our speed and altitude
and the distance we have traveled, and a tiny plane
mimics the path, more or less straight, our flight
has made. The pilot lights the seatbelt sign
again and as we bump along I wonder
what old Tanner, long retired, probably dead,
would have made of my own meanderings,
the crooked logic that has led us here,
on what could be our last trip together
but isn’t that always technically the case?
Chelsea Rathburn lives in Decatur, Georgia. Her first book of poetry, The Shifting Line, won the 2005 Richard Wilbur Award; her second collection, A Raft of Grief, will be published by Autumn House Press in March.