Fly Over

Barbara Lawhorn

~For Sean and Lesha


When leave is up,

I don the costume

of flight attendant

two sizes bigger, 

for my body, changed

by labor—demanding

more space in the world.


I have grown used

to my face without

makeup, but peer at my pores,

changed too by lack of sleep-

the magnifying mirror distorting 

further as I paint myself cordial

for the public who will enter

the small plane from Chicago

to Peoria. My daughter

sleeps, mobile lazily circling

above the snowy expanse of crib.

My own mother stands in the doorway,

wordlessly waving goodbye. Her face

says what she cannot. Don’t leave.


I do not cry. I drive and note

that autumn has eaten the world

and I do not cry. I do not think

about dropping from the sky

or how I will extend myself

to strangers, and smile, beacon of

order in a starched uniform. Vanna White

of the overhead bins and yellowed

oxygen masks. In the airport

bathroom, I pump my milk.

The machine is deluxe, both

breasts at once, the thrumming

pull, nearly sexual as they move

from stones to flesh, emptied.

Liquid gold, my husband says.

Last week, he placed his lips

around nipple and tasted

while entering me cautiously.

He was so tender, I laughed into

my pillow. All he does not

know about the universe

of my body, my brain. I pad

my nipples, in case my milk lets

down, adjust, button and right

myself. Walk with my shoulders back

and machine slung like a purse.


My work is automatic. I feared

I would forget how to be outside

my home, and joy blooms deep

in my belly. I still have this. I still

am beyond beyond beyond the bond

so powerful a kitchen match spontaneously

alights sulfur blue in my brain and I think

of running. Instead I am flying. Departing

and arriving. The flight is mostly men

in business casual, but right before the door

is latched, a wheelchair containing an elderly

woman, weeping, and holding an infant,

so newly come it looks alien. She wears

grief so fresh everyone turns from her, but

I help her, guide her to her seat. The contours of her

adult diaper are clear through the nylon of her pants.

The baby sleeps, drops suddenly into it

before takeoff, and the woman weeps

without sound. Once we hit altitude, I pass

out pretzels and water, only. And the baby wakes


and the baby squalls. My milk lets downdowndown.

Then the turbulence. The pilot speaks, and I am instructed

to sit, and as I pass, the woman holds up the baby

like a sacrifice. I can’t, she moans, I thought I could,

but I can’t. We are flying over a quilted plain where

human desire is mapped. The desire to tame, cultivate,

feed, and own. What is there to do, but take the baby?

Sit down and latch my belt. We rumble through pockets

of air that want to rattle our frail bones and ricochet

our brains in the casings of our skulls. The woman

gives voice to the grief that has wildly claimed her.

I read the terror of the passengers’ collective face

and smile placidly. I am the light house. I burn.


It’s automatic. The baby gusts so pathetically. I am 

unbuttoning my shirt, unlatching my nursing bra. The veins

of my breasts are so blue they look like a tattooed map.

I feel the soft down of the baby’s hair, and below the soft

skull, still knitting, and imagine the brain beneath. There are blood vessels

there on the surface, pulsing tributaries that match the beating of its

tiny heart. I guide the mouth. Here, I murmur. Here. Here. Here.

And once the latch, and the familiar pull, I look up, as I imagine 

the Madonna would. In a clear voice, a lullaby for all, I speak sing.

There now, there now, hush my loves, my lovelies, my dears.

Barbara Lawhorn is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. She's into literacy activism, walking her dog, Banjo, running, baking and eating bread, and finding the wild places, within and outside. Her most recent work can be found at The Longleaf Pine, BLYNKT, Nebo: A Literary Magazine, and Naugatuck River Review. Her favorite creative endeavors are her kids, Annaleigh and Jack.