Steffan Triplett
Middle Seat

Though I like the idea, I do not like flight once I’m in it: you just can’t trust the clouds won’t whirl you back down. I strain-smile at attendants but today I don’t really have the energy to engage with the blonde woman on my right. But I do take out my earbuds when she speaks. Because she’s trying and she looks like my mother who has always taught me to be polite, even when I am afraid. I envy the man on my left, deep in a crossword, his views of the ground. See, I hate the middle seat. And as of late, I’m not sure why existing feels this way: like I’m sandwiched between two people who maybe haven’t done anything wrong today. I have become this boy, fearful of the altitudes of a person, in a sky. But she lets me know that I can look at her magazines, if I’d like. There are celebrities on the cover so I refuse. But I’ll admit I’m not completely uninterested, just not in the mood today. It’s summer and it feels dreadful to focus on anything other than the news; which I think she, too, has been reading—going out of her way to talk to the other looking boy next to her, on a plane, trying to make up for anything someone else has done wrong today, or yesterday— wanting to help someone survive it all. I don’t know her like that but also maybe I do: I texted my mother “love you too” after boarding, before a white man, mad at his seating, walked up the aisle laughing at his own joke: saying “back of the bus” at a low volume. I start writing notes for poems in my phone and the woman with the aisle gestures towards her magazine, again, and I wonder if she is genuine, simply likes sharing her possessions with strangers. Because I struggle to buy this, and not search for something wrong today. What I mean to say is, I think we are both skirting around what goes on on the ground. The plane shudders and up whirls my stomach with the lunge of the cabin, and I squeeze the arm rest, and I see her see me do it, and the man to my left jolts upright, and I wonder if we were to plummet, right there, 28,000 feet, crashing somewhere above the Mason-Dixon, would the three of us all hold hands, and set the field on fire in a beautiful blaze?

Steffan Triplett is an instructor and MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. Some of his work appears or is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, The Offing, Wildness, BOAAT, Kweli Journal, Foundry, and Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books). Steffan has been a fellow for Callaloo and Lambda Literary and is a VONA/Voices alum. He was raised in Joplin, Missouri.