by Michaela Coplen, 18
Carlisle High School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

For my mother, on the occasion of her military retirement

The plane’s wheels kiss the tarmac and hesitate,
pulling back achingly before pressing themselves

against it again, sighing with an almost-shudder when
the landing gear bows under the weight of a thousand

anxious stares (their eyes focused, squinting from where
they were told to stand, practicing patience with the wringing

and unwringing of hands and the quiet urgency of prayer,
their lungs wanting air in the five-minute forever of before),

then the plane stops, and the door opens wide, revealing
the sudden relief of the sound of soldiers stepping outside

as one by one, then all at once, they march toward the gate
(where a little girl waits, lurching from left to right, trying

to catch sight of her soldier through the crowd, standing on her
father’s shoulders to get a better view), and everyone searches

through the glaring light of noon for their own familiar
faces, all maintaining ranks until finally one lunges to embrace

his son—then the whole group runs together, moving
in slow motion through the loudness of banners and cheers—

and she appears, now striding by herself across
the seemingly endless divide, but pausing in the process,

inexplicably turning aside for one final look at the plane that
delivered her here, back to the children she loves with her life

and the country she loves like a child, before pivoting around
with a smile and floating, uninhibited, into the open arms of home.


Written in Response to "Fast Break" by Edward Hirsch