Seeing the Ocean from a Night Flight

by Eleanor Goodman, translating from the Chinese by Wang Xiaoni

copyright ©Chinese Copyright © 2014 by Wang Xiaoni / English Translation and Foreword Copyright © 2014 by Eleanor Goodman

Everything becomes small
only the ocean makes the night’s leather clothes
open up the further out it spreads.

Flying north
to the right is Tianjin
to the left is Beijing
two clusters of moths flinging themselves at fire.

Then the East China Sea suddenly moves
the wind brings silver bits that can’t be more shattered
and many thick wrinkles whip up

I see the face of the ocean
I see the aged seashore
trembling and hugging the world too tightly.

I have seen death
but never seen death come back to life like that.

Notes on the Poem

In "Seeing the Ocean from a Night Flight", Eleanor Goodman, translating from an original poem in Chinese by Wang Xiaoni, encapsulates an experience that many have had but few know how to express so beautifully. This poem, from the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Something Crosses My Mind, grows more haunting with every reading. The poem depicts the breathtaking, somewhat bewildering and even unnerving feelings of an air traveller. Whether one is travelling by airplane for the first or the gazillionth (sigh) time, the miracle of air flight and what it presents for the traveller to see, take in and process is always fresh. It never becomes mundane that suddenly, knowing you're inexplicably far above the immensity of the world "Everything becomes small" ... does it? From this truly elevated place of dislocation, one's thoughts can roam in fascinating ways. The poem's closing couplet captures that in startling and sublime fashion.

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