One poem by Suzanne O’Toole

The Long Flight Home

In 8th grade
we had this plan 
to build a two-person bicycle-powered flying machine 
that we’d fly to prom

We wanted to assemble it using: 
Erector Sets, scrap metal, a few pieces of pipe, lonely lengths of rope, 
just a bunch of junk lying in the cellars of our homes.  

We might've included a small supplemental engine of some sort 
We hadn't really “nailed down” the details.... 
But that wasn’t important.  
It was all about the vision. 

We had it mostly planned out. 

In between our side-by-side tandem bike, 
I'd always figured we'd have space for a cup holder…
or a console of some sort…
some place to pull the ripcord or 
lift the lever that would allow us to sail off into the sky.  

Sure, we never "ironed out" the entire plan…

Prom snuck up on us too soon and, by then, 
years would've passed and we'd have different dates 
but I had considered the curves of the handlebars… 
and our site of departure… 

We'd unload our ‘da Vinci-inspired’ contraption from someone's car 
(even though we never figured out whose) …
…but we were going to FLY it using our FEET!
We were going to pedal as fast as we could 
on a runway built out of our Junior/Senior high's school's student parking lot 
where all present would've witnessed a miracle! 

Within the space of maybe a football field (probably less), 
our machine was going to thread itself magically through the fabric of the sky 
where we would wave at our classmates below...

The two of us, (silly science geeks), 
actually piloting a ship of own invention 
to what would've been the nerdiest prom of our wildest dreams!!!!

The two of us, more fantasy than fact- 

The two of us- used to living in that kind of world- 
one of our own making, 
one that no one else could shake. 

The reality wasn't quite as much fun: 
Your mom wound up driving us to our freshman year dance. 

The Internet was still in its infancy, back then. 
Even searching for such a solution would have been pointless…. 

Probably wouldn't even have been able to find 

the right wrenches we would've needed, anyway...

…or the right bolts for the collapsing parts, (the pieces that would telescope),

the kite kit we would’ve turned into a special sail of sorts- 
just what we needed to capture the wind,

The gears- 
  specific gears 
that would've converted 
pedal forward plus air into flight upwards….

I saw an advertisement once 
saying you could send away for the parts 
of a small single passenger plane 
and, NO, it wasn't OUR machine 
but, YES, it DID remind me of us. 

Whenever, I see other bike-powered flight events, I always think of you.  

Old friend, 
those days are gone.  
Our machine only ever existed in our minds. 

I wonder what you do with yours. 

On occasion:  
I shine mine up.
Put a little oil around the collapsing parts, 
a little grease where the telescoping pieces go.  

I'm amazed I can still lift it by myself
but, you know what? 

I've never piloted it alone.  
Even in my dreams, 
when I take it out for a whirl, 
you're always there with me 
sailing off into our geeky little universe 
like Amelia's last great flight- 
not just to the silly dance… 

…Although, we did make an appearance there once 
landing in the parking lot where 
all our classmates erupted with the congratulatory cheers we'd always hoped for. 
As we exited our tinker toy plane built for two, 
even the football players
clapped you on the shoulder, 
remarked how cool it was, 
and asked, “How long did it take you guys to build?”

You looked at me as you replied, 
“What did it take us? A couple months?”

I nodded and said, 
“Mostly three weekends 
of tightening down the bolts 
but really it didn't seem like long at all.  
Almost felt like it fell to the earth out of the sky of our minds.”  

So weird- how we both shared that same fantasy: 
The parking lot takeoff and landing, 
strolling in wearing fancy clothing 
worthy of the ride, let alone the occasion…

But nowadays, 
whenever I fly with you (ever my copilot), 
I just see us- 
flying over land and sea…
waving to well-wishers below…
amazed at how the air doesn't bother us…
how I'm never chilled at this height 
even though we don't have windows!!! 
And I’ve always attributed that to your magic.
But lately, 
at the end of every make-believe flight, 
it always feels the same, ends the same…

We're calmly pedaling together.  
You turn toward me.  
I see your face and we both smile.  
You ask me, “Where to?” 
the way you always used to 
when you'd pick me up with your car 
but this time I don't answer, “north”, “south”, “east”, or “west”.  

This time, 
I just smile at you 
and the sun sets 
and the birds keep pace 
and our legs never cramp 
and I just turn and say, “Up! Up! Up! Up!“

Suzanne is a Boston-based spoken word poet who plays the voice of Theresa Clarke on the space-themed time-traveling show Solutions to Problems and the Honorable Margaret Fly on the surrealistic podcast Wait Wait Don’t Teleport Me!!  She has featured at Stone Soup and the Cantab Lounge.  Her poetry has been published in The Canton CitizenCanton Writes (volumes 2014-2021), and Oddball Magazine.

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