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          Heavenly Flight
          By Sarah Sloat

          The flight from Rome taxis, turns
          on the continent and its cathedrals,
          churches famished for priests, vaulted altars,
          bare before the rare band of pilgrims
          and handfuls of unholy tourists.

          The plane is full of us, my seat tucked
          among a pack of Catholics returning to the terra nova.
          Four hours aloft, I slump in my seat,
          buffeted by fellow travelers’ frustrations.
          The Catholics’ guide holds court a row back
          on the future of their church, the need
          to reconsider vows of poverty and chastity.
          Beside me, a pilgrim has been mouthing prayers for hours,
          emptying herself; prayer after rote prayer
          spills from her tongue like beads.
          Now and then she stops for air, only to plunge in
          again, breathless, as to an urgent question.
          I cannot hear the words; I rise and sink
          with her inflection, or twitch when her lips stick
          on the thirst created by the cabin air, so dry
          our hair lifts crisp with static, ludicrously charged
          as if we were mystics hurtling home.

          Across the aisle a pilgrim removes his shoes,
          turns them over to rest his feet upon their soles.
          He talks of St. Francis with the girl
          perched lotus-style beside him.
          Francis, he says, St. Francis was fed up,
          he did an about-face to become a saint, a miracle.
          I think we could all be saints, he says, all of us.
          Fingering his crucifix, he shifts his weight
          from the window and declares
          the flight is awful, then thinks twice--
          no, no, it’s heavenly,
          a heavenly flight, he laughs
          and finishes his drink.

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Document last modified on: 01/06/2007

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