by Robbie Gamble
The toddler took up his wail before we left U.S. airspace, and he climbed into full-crescendo
distress by the time the hushed outports of Newfoundland slid beneath our wake. His range was
impressive: swoops and trills and atonal melodic jags, and each time I thought he had ground his
theme into submission, he would launch into a daring new variation, like a miniature Coltrane
wringing the viscera out of his horn, three octaves too high. When I boarded the plane, I had been
reading a piece on the secrets of Hollywood sound artists, learning for example that the sound of
repeated blows to the head can be rendered by hammering on a cabbage, an image I couldn’t shed
as we hurtled along at 40,000 feet, resentment dispersing through the widebody cabin like a virus.
Parents, oh dear parents, playing hot-potato-child in shifts while wending the aisles in search of a
miracle, an off-switch, a blessed fog of exhaustion to shroud over their bundle of shriek. I could
taste again that death-grapple between synapses of patience and panic I experienced on a flight
years ago writhing my own inconsolable toddler halfway across the Gulf of Mexico. Music is
violence, sleep an unreachable verdict, fatigue the soup we all swim in, even its memory dragging
down our bones. Dostoyevsky was onto something: love is a harsh and dreadful thing, especially
within those darkened hours of confinement in a jetliner. Somewhere east of the southern tip of
Greenland, silence descended.
Robbie Gamble (he/him) is the author of A Can of Pinto Beans (Lily Poetry Review Press, 2022). His poems have appeared in Atticus Review, RHINO, Salamander, The Sun, and Whale Road Review. He is the poetry editor for Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices, and he divides his time between Boston and Vermont.