Jackie Airhart

Ham Radio

A thumb and index twirl the knob carefully
in case something dangerous lurks in the dial;
then adjust the volume, send it swooping.

And the squeaks and squeals and squawks that burst out of the black
box are not born of farms but from high and far away;
from spheres of air that cloak the world.

We gather at dark, beneath a steeple of knit steel in slickers and boots,
to hunt down the resting places of our echoes. Don’t you wonder too, how
your name must taste to an incorporeal voice, as it sounds out the slow crackling syllables?

Sometimes the silence ruptures, laughter tumbles out and stuns us
like pieces of very bright light. But at other times–in the stretches,
the pauses, the hushed thread of silence the antenna follows drifting across the sky,

We find ourselves ignoring human grumbles and listen instead
to the stars whispering. Their long-held secrets shimmering,
murmuring some cold and ancient tongue.

Photos of Family Jumpers Off Elk Falls, NC

In both photos, their
feet point down and their arms
rise to their sides like cranes,
like the right gust could find their spans
and they would gently glide down.

But they must have hit hard, sucked
deep into the water violently,
as pointedly as though
some giant threw them, aiming
to spear a large fish dead center
with their bodies.

My grandfather’s is in color but
muted with a green bleach from
hanging in a sunny patch of wall.
He is on the right and very small.
You could almost miss him.

His grandfather’s is black, white,
dark. The shape of him a grey
blurry thing that seems to belong
to what he is a camera click
away from dropping into.

The water is falling in both like it always has,
in love with the river beneath it.
It races the two jumpers to the
murky basin, its quiet
rush, their sudden drowned
yelps gurgling out of a silence
the frames strain to hold fast.

I have been told you cannot jump
you must run. There is no option
to weigh uncertainty, to ponder, to whisper
encouragement, to gaze over the edge
or stick out your foot to test the icy thin sheet of wind.

The air must blow past your ears.
You must commit fifty yards back,
set yourself sprinting, hellbent and
gracelessly skidding over glorious mudded slime;
briefly interrupting a scream that suddenly
doesn’t look like yours as you leap away from it,
reaching for empty arms of air
that do not care to catch you.

You cannot jump you must run.

Ah. That’s it. Where poems come from.

The Fish

He lay there astonished,
unable to understand the suddenness
of his own weight, his own flesh
mobbing and crushing his bones,
without water to ease
the strain of being himself.

He couldn’t have stopped seeing
the awful blankness of blue above
from that gaping lid-less eye,
so I squinted for us both: at the sun, his scales,
the sparkling puddle of water,
the metal rims of my grandfather’s
glasses scattering the light.

I watched him flop wildly,
struggling against some angel,
then saw the shivers quiet
on the sweltering August ground:
as a living net of gnats floated in
to surround him.

© Jackie Airhart

Jackie Airhart recently graduated with degrees in English and Economics from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She writes, “While I attended UMBC, an Undergraduate Research Award allowed me to travel to Ireland, where I studied Seamus Heaney’s literary papers at the National Library in Dublin. I am interested in reaching a wider audience with my poems.”

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