Flight is not the same thing as escape. Flight comes before. We observe flight as crystalline, etched in our minds by the way we fetishize it. Flight brings to mind expansive images of migratory birds instinctively flapping southward and BBC camera crews filming wan, disoriented Syrian refugees debarking from inflatable rafts onto rocky Greek shores. These images belie just how momentary flight is. It’s not sanctuary, but a state of transition. It’s a secret passage. Flight is running recklessly into the unknown.
We all dream of flight, one way or another. I’ve spent the last thirty-odd years painting myself into the sweetest, prettiest little corner filled with satisfying work and people I adore and comfortable objects, but every day I fantasize about sprinting across that wet paint toward the nearest exit. Who knows what’s out there, but it looks tantalizingly like liberation. Of course, some of us are more desperate than others, like the astronomer in these pages whose family is so broken that he’s willing to entertain the possibility that aliens are communicating with him, if it means that his schizophrenic daughter can be healed.
Originally this issue’s theme was Heaven. But heaven is divine, and what’s found in here is profoundly human: unorthodox therapies for mental illness and glimpses of the agony felt by quarantined smallpox patients, bleak desert and winter landscapes. It’s all so taxing; who wouldn’t want to get away? Much to our relief, the promise of rescue is in here, too, of escape into the creative imagination, into outer space, into a padded room where adults careen around on tricycles to their heart’s content. The poems are full of birds and airplanes and faraway islands. Flight is a mortal’s attempt to reach for heaven. (Spoiler alert: We never succeed.)
In the song “Remainder,” Ben Gibbard sings: “He was always distracted by the very mention of an open door.” That’s the other part of flight that often goes unexamined—what’s left behind. This issue opens with “marvelous ships” carrying loved ones from the shore, capturing both the terror and the possibility of sailing into the void. The speakers remain on the beach, warmed by bonfires, while pieces of them travel with their compatriots aboard the ships. Sometimes staying on solid ground reminds us to be grateful. The golden girl on our cover is standing on that threshold, a part of her surroundings and yet separate; her feet don’t touch the ground. In the last poem, Regan Good says, “You cry at the Sun Door then rush into the light.” Pay attention: The golden girl may take flight.
—Kate Munning, Managing Editor