Aleksandar Hemon

The sun had already vanished below
the horizon, the sky was dying ember.
Where I lived was in the landing path,
so that hour after hour planes howled

above, their underbellies emerging
from the low clouds, wingtips blinking
in frantic anticipation of arriving home.
Each was full of people who were waited

for, I assumed. I believed no plane ever
turned around and went back home,
to wherever they might be coming from.
Once they were here, they were nowhere

else. As I had no chairs or furniture then,
my mother and I knelt at the window,
as if at an altar, and watched the sky
go slowly charcoal smudged, then black.

Distant airplanes twinkled and hovered
still before descending on O’Hare.
They look like a swarm of fireflies,
she said. We could not tear our gaze

away. Neither of us dared to stand up
and turn on the light in my tiny place,
because we knew moving would vanish
everything present in that moment

between us, even if the eager planes
kept coming and descending. I have never
seen anything like this, my mother said.
She was fifty-­six, as I am now, when she

landed in Canada. A couple of suitcases,
not a word of English, all her life behind.
She had the status of landed immigrant.
It was some months before she could take

the twenty-­hour bus ride crossing
foreign lands to visit me in Chicago,
where I lived in a place full of nothing,
except a window looking at the sky
swarming with never-­landing fireflies.

Aleksandar Hemon is the author of My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You. He teaches at Princeton University.
Originally published:
May 19, 2021


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