Ever westward, toward and through
the ever-westering delay of nightfall,
fleeing its shadow on the clouds,
our plane drones on over
the darkening Sierras,
the tightly clustered lights of towns
in California’s Central Valley,
another, lower stretch of mountains,
then the Bay Area—
a panoply, an earthbound galaxy
of lights, square miles and miles
of richly interspersed illumination,
hillsides lit, Bay waters glittered
like a scalloped bed of anthracite.
As our huge jet, with fossil fuel to burn,
feathers downward, light leaps toward our eyes
at a speed exceeding thought,
here and now outrivaling
the heaven’s pin-point stars, some dead or dying,
their burnt-out energy dispersed as light
still traveling toward San Francisco.
Near midnight in my sister’s home
above the Oakland Airport, I watch
headlights at the Bay’s edge disappear
one by one or more, their journeys done
in the dimness of the moon’s illumination.
Overhead, a single plane
leaves the ghostly tracing of its flight—
its contrail, dissipating miles behind it.
John N. Miller was born in Ohio (1933) but grew up in Hawai'i. In 1997, he retired from teaching literature and writing at his undergraduate alma mater, Denison University, and now lives with his wife Ilse in a retirement community in Lexington, Virginia.
Illustration by Paul Hostetler