A Bush Pilot Executes His Last Shutdown

for Phil

When he knew he was dying, he had bars installed
over all the windows,
added inside bolts to the weight of doors.
Too many burglaries, he said,
although there was nothing to steal;
record player arm broken thirty years, rabbit ears
still splayed on the television.
The bars deepened street light shadows, screened the sun.
Cumulus, stratus, cirrus, nimbus scudded past without notice.
In the fading afternoon light, he filed his flight plan,
fixed his coordinates above scrub brush and snow drifts.
Alpha, Bravo, Tango, Zulu lay disjointed.
He lost altitude.
Each night he thrust bolts, tested bars,
executing The Procedure Checklist from pushback to shutdown
as he had once done in his Cessna 180.
White filmed his eyes, lungs thickened, bones stiffened.
He feared the final shutdown; listened
for the staccato voice of the air traffic controller:
All clear for takeoff.

~ Joan Shillington

Joan Shillington was born and raised in Edmonton and moved with her husband and children to Calgary in 1985. She has been published in Freefall, Prairie Journal, University of Calgary Anthology Writing the Terrain, Room of One’s Own. In the fall of 2008, Revolutions (Leaf Press) a book of poetry about the last Tsar of Russia and his family was released.

“‘Public Skating Christmas Day’ was inspired by an incident witnessed skating with my grandson during the holiday season a few years ago. I witnessed an old man and his young (presumably) grandsons as they surrounded him and he handed out candies, wearing bedroom slippers. ‘A Bush Pilot Executes His Last Shutdown’ is about my father, one of the original bush pilots of Alberta.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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