Rules for Another Plane

He sits beside me, too close,
the cramped quarters of the flight
leave insufficient room for elbows
politely sharing space,
thighs not quite touching.
A young man, I think, though it’s hard
to assess without staring;
we have both engaged
in airplane courtesy:  quick smiles
and then gaze down-shifted to book
and magazine; in this too-small
space, we can offer each other
little more than the ignoring
that passes for privacy.  It’s polite,
and yet, not what I want tonight.

If we were wild animals,
we would share space differently;
we would curl up together,
this young man and I, my arm
sliding beneath his, my hand
resting on his thigh,
as the plane coasts eastward
into the night; we would take
comfort in the beat of shared
pulses.  If he were she, I think
we might come closer to that,
be less self-conscious,
less punctilious in our space

I once fell asleep at five a.m.,
exhausted, commuting
to work on a city bus, my head
falling onto the shoulder
of an older black woman
in the back row.  She let me sleep,
kindness triumphing over
ordinary rules of courtesy;
perhaps hers was the greater
civilization, one we rarely allow.

I wish this young man and I
might forget all the rules
that say we should not touch,
that it would be, in another context,
dangerous to allow such
familiarity.  He looks tired,
and I would gladly let him lean
against me, two warm bodies
in this liminal space between worlds,
in the chill of sundered night.