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IOWA Alumni Magazine | May 2018
The Sky Above Lokhor
WRITERS' VOICES | STORIES FROM THE WRITING UNIVERSITY

Iam trying to think of something else. It is indeed hard. You have to picture the interior of your cranium as an empty room, concentrate solely on its emptiness, and begin to put plaster on the walls, floor and ceiling. You can also do the whitewashing. Then you spend five minutes dwelling on the blank emptiness of the room. Smelling the whitewash. If all sorts of rubbish show through the walls, you can begin to imagine objects rotating in the center of the room. Anything that comes to mind. Think of them and nothing else. Buddhists call this meditation.

When on the plane, I try not to think about the plane. When the entertainment program comes to an end, the map and telemetry fill the display. I can see that the tracking has been passed over to a Pakistani station. The plane will soon fly above it. We are currently gliding over snowy peaks, and somewhere down there is K-2, a high and forbidding mountain. The tracking station is out there. I am picturing it as a snow-covered portacabin on a dazzling slope. The footprints around it have been covered by the snowfall overnight. Bearded Pakistani men are having hot tea made with melted snow, standing by the entrance in down jackets, knitted ski hats and aviator sunglasses. They are looking at the rocky veins appearing here and there on the sparkling white peak. They are discussing something, pointing fingers. The possibility, and beauty, of an avalanche.

SIX HOURS INTO THE FLIGHT, IT SEEMS THAT IF I STOP THINKING ABOUT THE RELIABILITY OF THE AIRCRAFT UNITS AND STOP PRAYING, WE WILL FALL DOWN. THAT IT IS MY MENTAL TENSION KEEPING US IN THE AIR.

One goes behind the portacabin and makes a yellow smoking ravine in the snowdrift, his back to the mountain. He lingers up there. Zips up the coveralls in one sweep. Comes back to pick up his mug. His cap has "Nice" embroidered on it.

Inside the portacabin, on a green military screen, there is a blinking dot of us. In the midst of noise waves and lines of the scale grid. Red. Behind the closed door (to not let out the heat), you can't hear the alarm buzzer.

Only the silence emanating from the mountain, and the glare of the sun on the fluted surface of a metal mug.

Before landing, I always look at the passengers I'm flying with. I'm glad when I see a lot of small children. I try to figure out God's reasoning. It seems secure. Still, had the plane been filled exclusively with young children, I would have been afraid anyway.

I drink during the flight, wait for meals to be served, compose poems.

For the most part, like these:

Children's arms

of turbulence

Hold faces in oxygen-less

masks...

It is seven and a half hours of going crazy to Bangkok. I am praying. Six hours into the flight, it seems that if I stop thinking about the reliability of the aircraft units and stop praying, we will fall down. That it is my mental tension keeping us in the air.

The monotonous humming.

I have never slept on a plane, and I have to fly a lot. A little turbulence can shake off the effect of a small bottle of red wine and a glass of beer.

Eight hours into the flight, I begin to see neat squares of rice fields below. The cabin lights go on, despite the fact that enough light gets in through the windows. Passengers stretch, throw off their travel rugs. They line up to the toilet. Swollen faces. Skin defects are visible on everybody's faces. Except the faces of flight attendants.

I feel like looking out the window. There, the straight highway of Sukumwit is floating past, and the smells of Bangkok come back to me. Two hundred and forty of the two hundred and fifty passengers of our flight will talk about it as an intermediate stinky horror on the way to some Pattaya. And only ten people will understand this city. Fall in love with it. Sell their business, get a divorce and leave for it. Or will be carrying the quiet grief of the absence.

The plane flinches on contact with the runway, the cabin is applauding. It seems to me that should the oxygen masks drop now, they would have been not masks, but wine glasses tied at the stem, they would have been filled with champagne through the piping and, having drunk it, all the passengers on our plane would have felt the same thing I did.

The relief of those who have survived.

Translated from Russian by Alexander Platonov.

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Yuriy Serebriansky, a Polish-born journalist and fiction writer living in Kazakhstan, was a fall resident of the UI's International Writing Program, which celebrated its 50th anniversry last year. He is the editor-in-chief of Esquire Kazakhstan, the editor of the Polish diaspora magazine Aímatyński Kurier Polonijny, and the author of five volumes of prose and poetry. "The Sky Above Lokhor" is the opening chapter of Destination. Road Pastoral, a novel that considers what home means for young post-Soviet Russian speakers living outside of Russia.

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