National Poetry Month: After the Plane Crash, Ken Waldman

There was a plane crash in Anchorage on Wednesday, a horrible crash with no survivors. Four people lost their lives when their small plane crashed outside of the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak. You can read more about it here.

When I heard this, I thought about Ken Waldman‘s poem, After the Plane Crash. I thought of it all day, until finally I had to reread it, over and over again, as if to make sense of not only life but my own impending death. Which is, of course, impossible. Death can never make sense.

I met Waldman, who calls himself Alaska’s Fiddling Poet, years ago when I worked as features reporter. I interviewed him for a story and attended one of his performances, where he fiddled and sang, fiddled and recited poetry. It was quite the evening and (dare I say it?) I developed a wee bit of a crush on him.

That was years ago, and I have no idea what he’s been up to since. He has been prolific, though: His work has been published in over four hundred (400!!) literary magazines (Ken, oh, Ken: How many rejection slips have you racked up? Do you have more than me?).

Whatever the case, I so love this poem, especially the quietness that lurks between the words (you can almost taste the quiet in your mouth as you read).

After the Plane Crash
Ken Waldman

My second day in the hospital,
a nurse I didn’t know came into
my room, shyly asked if I’d seen
the bright white light. No, I said,
then recalled that plane ride
through zero visibility where everything
had been white, grainy gauzy white,
and I’d meditated on that white,
found it inspiring, ineffable,
deep, was writing a poem in my head
about white when we hit,
and when I woke it was to blood
warm and wet down my face,
the red rinse like a movie scene.
It wasn’t until a month later,
feeling like me, that I began
focusing in on light bulbs,
headlights, small shiny brightnesses
winking like stars. So this is it,
I thought, and looked harder,
taking every little last thing in.

previously published in Pemmican, and
Nome Poems (West End Press, 2000)

I took these float plane photos while out at Mirror Lake last summer. The lake is flanked by a very lush mountain, which gives the water a greenish glow. I’ve swum across the lake, though only during very warm summers.

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8 thoughts on “National Poetry Month: After the Plane Crash, Ken Waldman

  1. Interesting poem. I’ll be reading that one again! Thanks for sharing it, Cinthia.
    You’ve made me think of something that you probably didn’t intend, too. And maybe it has a little to do with dying and living. I keep trying to figure out what is the purpose of publishing hundreds of poems in literary magazines. I hope I don’t sound like I’m picking on Waldman or sour grapes either. What I mean is, sometimes I just feel like, what is the point. Hundreds and hundreds of poems that go unread by all but a handful of people except for those that are then put in books that are read by another handful. OK, creeping back to my cave now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you should say that, Luanne, because I was thinking on similar lines a few nights ago, as I struggled with an essay I planned on submitting to a literary contest. I thought: Why am I putting in so much work and agonizing over something that, even if chosen, very few people will read? And poems are even worse because even less people read poetry, except those who write poetry (I’m trying to think if I know anyone who reads poetry and yes, I know a few but they’re all serious writers and really, I wonder if they read as they claim, you know?). So yes, I get it. P.S. Hope you have a nice day in your “cave.” (I so, so love creeping inside my cave, lol). Cheers. P.S.S. I just realized, with a shock, that of all the books I’ve read so far this year, not one (not one!) has been a poetry book. Oh, I read a lot of poetry but mostly in magazines and stray pieces from books. Kind of scary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Isn’t it scary, though? But that’s the way it goes so often. And with the lit mags, I am so grateful for the acceptances, but I know I don’t even try hard enough because after awhile does the number of acceptances have any meaning at all?

        Liked by 1 person

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