Don Colburn

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In The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing

US Airways Flight 1549

When the pilot told us to, I couldn't
take my glasses off and put my head down
between my knees. I wanted to watch
to the last moment before smithereens.
Closing your eyes won't help, not like in music.
The eerie part wasn't death touching down early
but how quiet it was, how smooth. We were gliding,
the buzz and rumble of engines gone,
and I could hear everything —
the crying (less than you think), Hail Marys,
the man up front trying against the rules
to call home. An old woman many rows back
sang beautifully in Spanish, maybe to God,
I don't speak that language. I wish I had known
they called the captain Sully and how Sully
was a glider pilot too. We had no idea
why it was happening, no inkling
of geese or gulls, but we were losing
altitude and the quiet sounded terribly wrong.

After we banked left, Sully brought us down
easy onto the river. The trick is
to ride the thickening air down slow
and plow into the water, head up like a duck,
not to nosedive, jackknife, cartwheel, burn.
When we didn't die, some panicked.
Suddenly there was time, and ice water
sloshing at our ankles, our knees. How long
can a heavier-than-air machine float?
Someone named Josh knew to knock the door out
over the wing. I didn't notice the guy carrying
his garment bag or the lady screaming for her shoes.
I just remember getting pushed toward a hole
in the side of the plane and tumbling out
into the cold gray blinding afternoon
which held me. I came to my feet
on the submerged wing with the others
and we walked on water.

first published in River Styx 81/82
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