Categories

# Time of Flight

I’m flying a kite on the shore of the lake
In the summer before I turn ten.
The weak string grows taut and eventually snaps,
And the kite sails away overhead.

Though I haven’t let go in the technical sense,
Still my aim plays no longer a role;
Story’s end is the same whether fate takes command
Or the kite’s wind-blown path I control.

In the decades that pass since that warm summer day,
Expectations will rarely align
With reality; little makes narrative sense
To extent I’ve envisioned in mind.

Recalling today that long-past afternoon—
Freed kite framed against vivid blue sky—
Though I mourned in that moment the loss of my toy,
I’ll remember now letting it fly.

As winter break quickly passes by, I will take a few minutes today to write a brief post, to note the disappearing month and year.  This non-Twitter poem was one I wrote in a creative writing course a few years ago, for which the pertinent day’s prompt was considering the act of “letting go.”

I’m flying a kite on the shore of the lake /
In the summer before I turn ten. /
The weak string grows taut and eventually snaps, /
And the kite sails away overhead.

Though written in meter, this initial depiction is relatively prosaic.  I still remember standing by the side of a lake in a state park, many years ago: watching, befuddled, as a colorful diamond soared far into the distance.

Though I haven’t let go in the technical sense, /
Still my aim plays no longer a role; /
Story’s end is the same whether fate takes command /
Or the kite’s wind-blown path I control.

This stanza veers the closest of any here to a chemistry theme, lining up with the discussion of state functions and path functions I’ve mentioned before.  Mathematically, state functions and path functions are approached differently; a state function simplifies much accompanying math because it can be defined by taking the final state minus the initial state.  To use my perennial example of a mountain climber’s odyssey, the altitude achieved in the climb is a state function, since it can be calculated simply by taking the final height reached minus the initial height at ground level; the distance traveled is a path function, since it requires information about the specific route to determine.

Here, “story’s end”– the altitude of the lost kite; its final state– would have been the same whether the string broke or I let go of it: “whether fate takes command / or the kite’s wind-blown path I control.”

(I wrote a potential addition to this portion at one point, making the point gratingly clear as a chemistry lesson: “Now the altitude reached by the diamond afloat / Is a state function, neatly defined: / Final height of the kite is the same in both versions / Of story I’ve held in my mind.” I ultimately preferred the simpler phrasing.)

In the decades that pass since that warm summer day, /
Expectations will rarely align /
With reality; little makes narrative sense /
To extent I’ve envisioned in mind.

These lines extend the mathematical metaphor to the idea of life as a path function that I’ve written about previously.  The path is unexpected and often challenging: expectation and reality can differ sharply; many events can seem bewildering, at best, when experienced in real time. While to look only at the initial and final states is to miss the entire story, the intervening path still might not make a great deal of “narrative sense,” as one walks it.

Recalling today that long-past afternoon— /
Freed kite framed against vivid blue sky— /
Though I mourned in that moment the loss of my toy, /
I’ll remember now letting it fly.

However, the act of writing about challenges can sometimes reframe and reclaim them, as related in this small-scale example.

On that day, years ago, I was disappointed to lose my kite. In writing this poem, I “remember[ed]… letting it fly,” a phrase which can refer either to an intentional release of the kite string (as referenced above) or, more generally, to the experience of kite-flying on the day itself.  The former didn’t happen, but through the writing process, I found the latter to be increasingly true.  When I looked back, I could envision the details vividly; I’m not sure I would have been able to, had the string not broken and the kite not departed so notably.

Several interesting tensions exist between this careful reassessment of memory and the “letting go” of the prompt that first inspired the verse.  That’s a balancing act fleetingly noted in the poem’s last few lines– and one that would be useful to revisit in a future essay!