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Michael Van Walleghen's Poetry


Once, my father got invited
by an almost perfect stranger


a four hundred pound alcoholic
who bought the drinks all day


to go really flying sometime
sightseeing in his Piper Cub


and my father said Perfect!
Tomorrow was my birthday


I'd be seven years old, a chip
off the old daredevil himself


and we'd love to go flying.
We'd even bring a case of beer.


My father weighed two fifty
two seventy-five in those days


the beer weighed something
the ice, the cooler. I weighed


practically nothing: forty-five
maybe fifty pounds at the most--


just enough to make me nervous.
Where were the parachutes? Who


was this guy? Then suddenly
there we were, lumbering


down a bumpy, too short runway
and headed for a fence--


Holy Shit! my father shouts
and that's it, all we need


by way of the miraculous
to lift us in a twinkling


over everything--fence, trees
and powerline. What a birthday!


We were really flying now--
We were probably high enough


to have another beer in fact,
high enough to see Belle Isle


the Waterworks, Packard's
and the Chrysler plant.


We could even see our own
bug-sized house down there


our own backyard, smaller
than a chewed-down thumbnail.


We wondered if my mother
was taking down the laundry


and if she'd wave-lightning
trembled in the thunderheads


above Belle Isle. Altitude:
2,500; air speed: one twenty


but the fuel gauge I noticed
quivered right on empty--


I'd reached the age of reason.
Our pilot lit a big cigar.