Maybe if One Person Less
by James Van Pelt
The spaceship Calliope breathes without pause, inhaling through mouths on the floor and exhaling from mouths overhead. Seaweed streamers on the ceiling vents wave in the continuous sigh. Lying in my bunk, eyes closed, the humming, breathing, great bear of a ship holds me close in warm embrace, its cave spread all around, black and vast and cold.
I miss Earth--how could I not?--but I miss Mother, too. Her face fades. How did the corners of her eyes wrinkle when she smiled? What color was her favorite blouse? How did she sound when she sang at her table working on what... a jigsaw puzzle, a game of solitaire, a paint-by-numbers picture?
Time robs color from flowers. I can't remember grass under my back when I stared at clouds. Were they really so big? Did the horizon circle me and center me and lift me up, a dot between the plate of sky and earth?
I didn't know to look with fondness at the Earth as the elevator lifted us toward the shuttle to Calliope. The shuttle walls vibrated beneath my hand that would never touch beach sand again, that wouldn't brush away a fly, or cup around an ear to hear a night train groaning in the Kansas night.
So Calliope's breathing comforts me, a steady suspiration that whispers a long "ah" in my ear.
I hiked the Appalachian Trail on my last outing, starting from Winding Stair Gap at the highway to the Nantahala Gorge and through the Little Tennessee River Valley. The ridges above Fontana Lake offered water glimpses through trees. Twenty-nine miles in three days. Poplar, white and red oak, hemlock, sycamore, basswood, and beech. Tree heaven. Not far from the Joyce Kilmer National Forest. It's true, it's true, there is no poem as lovely as a tree, and there are so many of them they blanketed distant hills with green velvet. I would, if I could run my hands over them, pet the planet.