Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Plane Crash

If you weren’t an English major, this link will take you to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” It’s a poem about visual perspective.

There are times when you take pains to observe the life in your periphery, when things move and when they stay still. Fixity and motion.

So yeah. February 8, 2006.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Plane Crash


On Fuerte Drive along the spine of Mount Helix

Late afternoon, post parent-teacher conference

Headed toward freeway, Melissa Etheridge greatest hits


Driving alone, kids at their dad’s

What was I doing that night

At home or out


The State of California gave me a driver’s license

Which is at times a miracle


I have a long-standing practice of looking at airplanes

Parked or aloft

Especially in flight


You might say plane crashes run in my family

Not a happy fact, but true

Three NTSB accident reports, and a surefire excuse not to date pilots


Fuerte Drive curves and you need to pay attention

Ridges and rises in the gradient

Above banks of bougainvillea, big patches of blue sky


Below Mount Helix and east and past the 67

One of our regional airfields, Gillespie

In the shadow of In-and-Out Burger


I know there’s a blind spot at takeoff from Gillespie

A mandatory turn climbing out of there

Every plane does it


I claim this fact because I retain too much info

About aviation and possibilities of instant death


Driving on Fuerte I looked at blue sky

No one on the road

Two small planes


Distant but sharp as two sequins on white linen

One 12 o’clock, the other 3 o’clock

12 o’clock’s nose glinting, 3 o’clock in profile

Different axes on a graph, a pre-algebra moment

Would they cross? An optical illusion for sure

Driving, I stared at the sky


Like toys going putt putt, no one flew fast

Their speeds laconic, gum-chewing and regular, seemingly the same


Three o’clock hit the side of 12 o’clock and it was no illusion, 

Arc of red and orange, smoke curving like white feathers

I swear that the Melissa Etheridge “Angels Will Fall” song was playing

It was a moment of There You Are, Now You’re Not

Two eyewitnesses — commercial pilot gardening, and yours truly.

3 responses to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Plane Crash

  1. Oh…I don’t think I realized that you’ve actually SEEN a plane crash. My heart beats changed as I read this…good one, A!

  2. I vividly remember when you saw this. Still seems surreal, I’m sure more so for you.

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