FROM THE INSIDE
★ ★ ★ ★
LISTENING TO PLANES
By Ryan M. Moser
The sound of comfort is a Pratt and Whitney engine on a Southwest 747, its turbine spinning in the sheer wind at 1,500 feet as the airplane descends into Miami International Airport after a layover in LAX from Seoul, Korea. The clouds part as each fifty-foot wing tears the haze, separating the ground from sky, dividing the visions and dreams of the planet from the dark and cold universe, its tail slicing through the atmosphere at over two hundred miles per hour, defying gravity, landing gear lowered like an eagle’s talons, a gliding giant seeing the world over and over and over again, a behemoth beast preparing to drop out of the sky and onto the steaming tarmac, unloading its passengers for the next leg of their journey.
Laying on my back on the clump-grass/dirt/concrete prison recreation yard, looking up, eyes focused on its curved white underbelly (my distant symbol of freedom), small ants crawling over my sweaty shins and back down again, staring up at the four entrails of engine exhaust gas, cold air molecules burning up in the heat, flaps moving, rudders shifting, red and white lights blinking, daydreaming of traveling again.
I see these commercial planes fly over the yard a hundred times a week, in every direction, within every degree of three-dimensional space, flying the axis, taking off and landing and taking off again, unaware that I’m staring, but watched nonetheless. I picture myself sitting comfortably in the cabin, a Coke or a scotch in my hand, my seatmate gently tapping her heel against the side of my loafer, perfume light and rosy, tapping on her laptop as I look out my circular window to the world below, down to terra firma, seeing the violent patch of land under us and the prisoners trapped inside the perimeter, a complex ringed by barbed-wire and guards and stigma, nodding to them as I recline my leather seat and breathe.
The busy airspace hovers above a compound of desperate souls, gazing around the firmament, the vaulted arch of the blue sky, wondering what has become of their lives, searching for answers, yearning for forgiveness, reaching into the recesses of memory to find happiness or a momentary lapse of pain, sensing the exile from all, some unremorseful, insanity blooming in the twisted minds of others, most contrite and wanting another chance, changing until time lets go of its grip, listening to planes fly. Off to foreign places of tropical paradise, to mountains and rivers and streams, uprising and flowing across the vast continental shelf; off to the desert sands and bazaars of Morocco, to the Orient and Shangri-La, over the Great Wall and into the Valley of the Blue Moon. Soaring past Mauna Kea. Above the Isthmus of Panama.
I imagine flying to places I’ve never been; maybe somewhere I’ll go when I get out, or a premonition of my future honeymoon. A destination wedding for a sibling or a family vacation. An anniversary trip. A conference in Vegas. I create itineraries and think about layovers and shopping in the duty-free gift shops, waiting in all the lines patiently because I’m so happy to be traveling again. No concern for time—I’ve already counted enough days for a lifetime. I pretend to be late for my departure and run to my gate, out of breath and relieved to make the boarding call. A cute girl at the US Air check-in counter takes my ticket with a smile.
“You just made it… have a great trip.”
The sound of comfort is the distant roar from a 727 twin-engine airliner, the sound barrier straining against its aluminum fuselage as it cruises at 8,000 feet, on its way to five hundred miles per hour and its cruising altitude, far above the Earth and blazing into the heavens, nearing the stratosphere, leaving Miami towards Atlanta or Philly or Salt Lake City or Portland, a streak of color from the Delta plane catching my eye, a painted bird rising into the white clouds in the azure sky, leaving for a journey I cannot join, filled with passengers I cannot know, will never meet in the security line, won’t excuse myself to get past their seat to get to the small lavatory, can’t buy a drink for when I learn of their retirement or new grandson or promotion. People that I can only imagine from the confines of my small world in prison, fantasizing about their destinations and voyages.
To a place better than where I am.
Ryan M. Moser is a recovering addict serving a ten-year sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections for a nonviolent property crime. Previous publications include Evening Street Press, Storyteller, Santa Fe Literary Review, The Progressive, themarshallproject.org, medium.com, thewildword.com, thestartup.com, and more. In 2020, his essay “Injuries Incompatible with Life” received an Honorable Mention award from PEN America, including publication on pen.org. Ryan is a Philadelphia native who enjoys yoga, playing chess, and performing live music. He is a proud father of two beautiful sons.
This column was made possible with the help of Exchange for Change, a non-profit based in Florida that teaches writing in prisons and runs letter exchanges between incarcerated students and writers studying on the outside.
Exchange for Change believes in the value of every voice, and gives their students an opportunity to express themselves without the fear of being stigmatized. Their work is based on the belief that when everyone has the ability to listen and be heard, strong and safe communities are formed, and that with a pen and paper, students can become agents of change across different communities in ways they may otherwise have never encountered.