In the beginning, all flight attendants were nurses,
nightingales, healers in motion above the earth.
Fear is the body's perception of altitude, flight's necessity.
Later, all they had to be was thin,
with height and weight the pretty margins of safety,
with a name that made them women.
Call button: a stick figure in a neat skirt, stewardess,
air hostess, a signal that we can get what we want easily.
Flight occurs when both lift and thrust have won.
I want the impossible: to lift off from the ground
with uniformed guides, safe in our metal hull with its wings that cut
the clouds, splitting the air that closes back up,
smooth and thick with the earth's moisture,
as if it had not been cut at all, as if we had never sliced through.
— Anna Leahy
"A History of Air Travel" by Anna Leahy was included in the anthology On the Wing: American Poems of Air and Space, edited by Karen Yelena Olsen (University of Iowa Press, 2005). It originally appeared in the Fall 1995/Winter 1996 issue of Seattle Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Home page image: "Wegbereiter Ikarus," print, woodblock on paper, by Wilhelm Geissler, 1966. (Courtesy NASM)