Shannon Borg

Attempting the Equator: Amelia Earhart, 1937

… for it was her voice that made
the sky acutest at its vanishing.
—Wallace Stevens


Whenever the cameras wanted her to kiss her husband goodbye
she shook his hand. Newsreel never showed the crimson

in her cheek, the gap between her teeth — he told her: Smile
with your mouth closed, dear. And no hats! We want to see

your tousled locks. So it came to this—nothing to do but tie
a smoky rope around the world. This is the last flight,

the camera clicking questions, You can never miss
an island, she says, tooth-gap smiling its emptiness. This

was her domesticity—a zigzag stitch
connecting hemispheres, above the abyss of Africa, from one

ocean’s obscurity to another. In the cockpit, bottles of water,
tomato juice, airsick pills, sandwiches she couldn’t eat.

From Los Angeles, her stomach in a knot six days. On the phone
from Honolulu to her husband—I’m experiencing

“personnel difficulties”—her radio expert gone, yes,
but this was different, this was code

for the navigator’s whiskey jag. Quit now, come home
Amelia—the line breaking up—I’m finding it

hard to hear you, he says, I’m losing you—
And still to come, the hardest stitch—across

the Pacific’s sheen to Howland Island—the needle could
lose north, cloud’s blue fabric slip apart. This is home—

the Lockheed’s berth, emptied for tanks of gas, emptiness
meant for the parachute and life raft she left behind.

Her bony wrist bare, even the bracelet forgotten,
elephant hair for luck. But her faith immense as the godless sky—

Howland, strip of sand less than two miles wide, thin
mouth on the sea’s vast face, wouldn’t it open for her,

mouth how? Clear morning, her face hot, eyes burning
the horizon with looking, the sun’s thin resting place. Everyone gone,

it seemed, from the world—no husband, no agent, no line
of cars crawling under ticker-tape snow, no heady scent

of roses, intoxication of fame. Just Earth’s endless, indifferent
curve. And this place, this plane: floating, rising, seeming

to fall, then finding solid air. Gasoline evaporating
like a spirit somewhere deep in the motor’s hum, and the scent

of whiskey from the navigator’s mouth, the hush
as he breathes cigarette after cigarette into ash.

You can never miss an island. Her voice breathless
into the speaker—I’m flying the line, can no longer

hear you. Repeat. Cannot hear … her voice falling away
like a chute opening over the sea—slow, circling down

then, a moment of pure seduction in the drone of fear—
engines quiet now—she points the nose and wings straight

into the darkest cloud bank, hears nothing
of the radio’s crackling code, needle no longer stitching but spinning—

and emerges sunblind and exhausted, into neither
heaven nor hell, but slips between, into the needle eye,

the island herself, into the last silver glint of possibility.



Shannon Borg is a poet and wine educator living on Orcas Island. Her publications include Corset (poems, Cherry Grove, 2006); Chefs on the Farm (a cookbook, Mountaineers, 2008), and poems in The Paris Review, London Review of Books, Poetry Northwest, and other journals. Shannon holds an MFA from the University of Washington, and a PhD from the University of Houston. Her most recent project is called 26 Kitchens: How Neither Here Nor There Became Home, a collection of essays chronicling every kitchen she’s lived in. It is currently posted on her blog 26Kitchens.