December 7
night time
dark as dark can be

37,000 feet up in the sky
565 miles per hour

past Amsterdam
past Dresden

Dinner clatters
in the carts
on tiny trays

Victor sleeps
with a blanket over his head


Minus 68 degrees
570 miles per hour

No lights
along the border
Iran and

At the bathroom
I give four Tums
to a woman looking frail
who has a stomach ache

turn at Amman

December 8

Victor sleeps

Bandar Abas

Minus 70.6 degrees


A young girl
on the plane
is remarkably

I wish I could
paint her


Cabin attendants pass out
water and juice

Victor sleeps


Woman in white silk burqa
prays in the back of the plane
by the bathroom,
shoes at her side
up and down
up and down
up and down

Minus 70.6 degrees Fahrenheit
559 miles per hour


My birthday in the sky

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , ,

IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

130 responses to “Unexpected Wonder”

  1. ksw says:

    may you always have the wind at your back.

  2. Art Edwards says:

    How lovely.

    Nicely paced too.

    Thanks, Irene.

  3. What gorgeous little observations, Irene! A lovely way to start my day. I haven’t seen Biutiful yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to return to this poem for a lift.

    • Irene Zion says:


      DON’T SEE IT!

      (It really was an amazing birthday.
      Hurtling through the sky in the dark
      with almost no one awake.)

      • Irene Zion says:

        Seriously, the acting is so perfect in Biutiful that you can’t help but be in the story and live it. It’s devastating.

  4. Melissa (Irene's friend) says:

    You can make everyday things a story. Amazing.

  5. Christine Walling says:

    I hope you were able to close your eyes and spread your arms out…you were a long way from that tree stump in Trieste!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh Christine,
      You have an amazing memory!
      It was just like that!

      I spread out my imaginary wings and flew like a rocket!
      A birthday not anywhere on earth, but hurtling through the dead of night in the sky!
      It was glorious!

      • Christine Walling says:

        The Trieste flying story of yours is one of my favorites. I love it. πŸ™‚

        • Irene Zion says:

          I’ve been working on flying for my whole life, Christine.
          My whole life.
          And I did it!
          I had done it before,
          but until my birthday,
          it hadn’t registered.
          Funny, life, eh?

  6. Gloria says:

    Irene – I wish I could hear you read this.

    On another note, when I read “I wish I could paint her” it took me a second to realize what you meant, as I first envisioned you, with a paint brush, painting on her skin. That’s not a flaw of your writing, it’s my own shortcoming as a reader. But still – a funny image. πŸ™‚

    This is really pretty.

  7. Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) says:

    Maybe you could paint your memory of the beautiful girl and put the poem on the frame. It would be wonderful.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You are always so sweet!
      I don’t usually write this sort of thing,
      but I was so astonished
      by the circumstances of my birthday.
      Really, it was wonderful.

      (Now you have me envisioning one scenario after another of me trying to physically paint the kid!
      My oh my, my gears are turning now!)

    • Irene Zion says:


      That’s a good idea, Marcia.
      I wonder if I can remember her as beautiful as she was.
      She was a stunning child.

  8. the kayak lady says:

    ’twas a stark poem, hope your birthday back on the ground was warmer and brighter. did victor wake up?

    • Irene Zion says:

      I loved my birthday in the night sky!
      It was transforming.
      It was simply a matter of actually looking at what was happening.
      A miracle, actually.

      (Actually, I had to wake Victor up when we landed.)

  9. George says:

    You should measure temperature in centigrade: you get a higher number so it won’t seem so cold.

    Happy Birthday!!

    • Irene Zion says:

      The colder the better, George!
      It was exciting,
      like being in space!

      Thanks, and a happy birthday to you, Valentine’s Day guy.

      (HAHA! It sounds like I’m flirting with you, but really there’s a reason I call you that.)

  10. kristen says:

    Lovely observations, Irene. And I like the temperature/speed repeats. Grounding.

  11. Ashley Menchaca (N.O.Lady) says:

    I loved this.
    Lot’s of strong images with few words.

    Happy birthday.

  12. Amy says:

    Beautiful way to describe it. At least your back was good then:)

  13. the kayak lady says:

    to take time is a gift. you were captive audience on the flight, and you were clever enough to take adavantage of it.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You know, kayak lady,

      it felt to me that
      the flight was my gift
      and everyone there,
      awake or asleep,
      was there for my

  14. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Evocative from beginning to end, but what got me is the woman praying. There you all are, thousands of miles up, where people point to God. No one can see the sadness, violence, and despair below. There are no boundaries either.

    Thanks for the warning on Biutiful. I shan’t try it until I finish writing this novel. These characters give me enough to contend with.


    • Irene Zion says:

      Far away from the earth and it’s boundaries,
      not subject to the laws of speed on earth,
      It was like being with God.

      Her burqa was stark white silk,
      and yet she knelt and touched her head
      to the rug next to the toilet
      many times
      and when she finished
      she put on her shoes
      stood up
      and she was still
      white as snow.

  15. J.M. Blaine says:

    i love
    late nights
    when I
    am the only
    one awake

    lovely ma’am.

  16. Irene Zion says:


    I love them too.
    magical things happen
    in the night.

    (Thank you,
    kind sir.)

  17. the kayak lady says:

    you do throw one hell of a party irene! next time, invite me, i will garb mom and be there! πŸ˜‰

  18. Joe Daly says:

    What a great way to pass into the next year of a spectacular life.

    It’s really true when they talk about the power of this moment.

    Lovely stuff, Irene.

  19. the kayak lady says:

    then you did well for a surprise party! it was -19.9 at 0 dark hundred this morning.

    • Irene Zion says:

      kayak lady,
      You do realize that you can kayak in warm waters, right?
      You already cataloged all those lakes up there in the hinterlands.
      Come south and do it again down in a warmer climate!
      It’s only practical.
      (Given a plane can fly out of a place so cold.)

  20. Richard Cox says:

    Sounds like a peaceful birthday. Nice piece, Irene.

    Those trip updates on international flights are addicting, aren’t they? The giant plane on the map, the ground speeds and temperatures, in Imperial and metric measurements. The plane graphic that is way too large for the map.

    I can’t sleep on planes, either. I hate that.

  21. Lorna says:

    Very nice, Irene. Happy belated birthday!

  22. Irene Zion says:


    I say the same thing every time, (of course no one hears me since Victor is always asleep.)
    The plane is the size of half a country.
    Surely they could re-size it.
    Perhaps they do that so you think you’re closer to getting where you’re going….
    I love watching the map, especially if there’s one behind the seat in front of you.

  23. Kimberly says:

    Is it okay that I loved, loved, LOVED Biutiful and didn’t feel a bit sad, but that I also loved this poem?

    Also, I took excellent care of Lenore in your absence and I drank three of your Coke Zeros.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Kimberly, of course it’s all right.
      You are simply made of sterner stuff than I.
      The acting was so real the filming perfect, but my heavens the plot just broke parts of my heart off every few minutes until there was nothing left but pain!
      I know, I take things too seriously.
      I get into a good book the same way.
      I become frightened just like I’m right there in the pages.
      You are a tough broad, Kimberly, and you can drank my Coke Zeros anytime you have a hankering for one.
      We’ll have to talk about that movie sometime.
      I will never forget a minute of it.

  24. the kayak lady says:

    yes, planes are able to fly in and out of the frigid northland. but once in december during my college daze i sat on a plane in grand forks for an hour while they tried to get the doors open. the doors were really frozen shut that afternoon. we just flew south to fargo and the doors were jarred open. how, i do not know.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I simply do not understand why people as sensible as you live where you do, kayak lady.
      Just don’t.
      I shiver just thinking about it.

  25. D.R. Haney says:

    Oh, this made me think of trips on trains when I lived in Eastern Europe. There were many of them, since I was constantly having to travel across the border to have my visa renewed, and one trip in particular was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I mean to write about that one day.

    Happy birthday two months late, Irene.

    • Irene Zion says:


      Glad to hear I jogged a memory for you.
      I would love to hear that story.
      I surely would.
      Maybe you could just start jotting it down…get it started, eh?
      I’m coming back, you know,
      twice more before March is over.

      Thank you for the birthday wishes, Duke, wishes never get stale.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        That memory has never strayed far, so it doesn’t have to be jogged. But the story takes a while to tell, and I’m afraid Victor, at least, might get bored. Maybe we can have coffee one-on-one one day, and if you remind me, and have an hour to spare…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Victor doesn’t even read my stuff or Lenore’s, so I very much doubt he’d want to listen to anyone else’s story. However, the next time I come out it will be without him. So. Problem solved.

  26. the kayak lady says:

    well irene, my counselor tells me that most of life is a mystery.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oddly, I cannot argue with that, kayak lady,
      it’s all a mystery to me too.
      When I was young I had everything figured out,
      but as I get older, I realize I don’t know squat about anything,
      because nothing makes sense
      when I examine it carefully.
      Certainly the word “fair” just goes right out the window.
      There really is no such word in the real world.

  27. the kayak lady says:

    you got that right irene. the earth is not flat, nor is it a level playing field. i am collecting questions for God; she will be busy the day we see one another eye to eye.

  28. Irene Zion says:

    I’m thinking, kayak lady,
    that there is a significant line already,
    each person with a
    list of questions.
    We’ll have quite a wait,
    (but what else will be have to do?
    Surely the chores are all done, right?)

  29. It’s easy to forget there’s beauty in flight, easy to get wrapped up in the sitting and waiting and discomfort. Every time I take a flight I’m more like you than Victor – I sit and watch people and make notes while whoever is next to me is sleeping.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I don’t know how I could have missed the beauty before this.
      Maybe my restless legs thing interfered. That’s hard to get past.
      This time, because my birthday happened right there in the air, it was different.
      It was a gift.
      I’ll never look at flying the same way again.
      I’m happy that you discovered this at such a young age.

  30. […] The Nervous Breakdown thenervousbreakdown.com/izion/2011/02/unexpected-wonder/ – view page – cached Irene Zion has been reading too many things that make her sad and scare her. She also made the mistake of going to see the acclaimed movie, Biutiful. Rather than immediately leap off the Kennedy Causeway Bridge, she decided to try to post something both nice and really short. Let’s all hope it works., Irene Zion has been reading too many things that make her sad and scare her. She also made the… Read moreIrene Zion has been reading too many things that make her sad and scare her. She also made the mistake of going to see the acclaimed movie, Biutiful. Rather than immediately leap off the Kennedy Causeway Bridge, she decided to try to post something both nice and really short. Let’s all hope it works., Irene Zion has been reading too many things that make her sad and scare her. She also made the mistake of going to see the acclaimed movie, Biutiful. Rather than immediately leap off the Kennedy Causeway Bridge, she decided to try to post something both nice and really short. Let’s all hope it works. View page Show influential only (1) $(‘#filter-infonly’).change(function() { var el = $(this); var url = document.location.href; var checked = el.attr(‘checked’); if (checked) { document.location.href = url + ((/?/.test(url)) ? ‘&’ : ‘?’) + ‘infonly=1’; } else { document.location.href = url.replace(/[?&]?infonly=1/,”); } }); […]

  31. Erika Rae says:

    I really like how the cabin attendants pass out.

    I also like how you manage to paint this scene after all – without a single brush stroke.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Lord, Erika Rae,

      Even your comments are that of an accomplished writer, crafted beautifully.
      Do you even know or is it just natural for you?
      Thank you.

  32. I love the way you view the world, Irene.
    And admire how you express it through the most lovely words.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I’m not sure that I always viewed the world this way.
      I think I grew into it.
      I appreciate your considerate words.

  33. Zara Potts says:

    Happy birthday, Irene.
    How nice to simply have silence as you fly across the earth. What peace.

  34. Happy Birthday!

    You have an amazing life and your write about it so beautifully!

    Was Victor putting the airline blanket over his head? This is okay with him/you? I’m freaked out by their blankets. The germ-load!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Jessica Anya,
      They SELL those blankets now on domestic flights!
      Can you imagine buying one?
      But, yes, that was international and he did indeed have the germ-laden blanket over his head.
      If he can’t have a blanket, he uses his fleece.
      His head is always covered when in a plane.
      That’s my guy….

  35. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Fragments of the frayed caliphates…
    Dam blue/white stats on plane TV
    Maddeningly addictive.
    An artist’s eye provides every sense of relief,
    The reader grateful for transport
    Of shared reverie.

    Victor sleeps.


  36. Irene Zion says:

    I don’t think I tell you enough, Uche, how very much I adore you.
    I adore you.
    You think in poetry, don’t you.

  37. A beautiful moment captured so well, Irene. It’s always something, on overnight flights, how complete strangers are first all ascended slightly from the planet and then asked to share the intimate and vulnerable hours of sleep together.

    Now I want to fly on my next birthday.

  38. sheree says:

    LOVE this!

  39. Irene Zion says:

    Aww, thanks, Sheree!

  40. Hey, I really like this poem, Irene. I don’t say that a lot because I don’t like poems a lot. But this one really moved…..

  41. Stephanie says:

    You are my hero, Irene. I hope to do some traveling myself in the future.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Stephanie,
      That is something I have never heard before,
      and it feels really good to hear.
      I can see you traveling all over the world.
      You’d appreciate it, too.

  42. Simon Smithson says:

    Happy Birthday for December 7, Irene!

    Is it wrong I’ve never heard of Biutiful?

  43. Irene Zion says:

    Thanks, Simon,
    No, it’s not wrong.
    It’s safe.
    Don’t read the movie page.

  44. I wish there had been a way for you to paint the beautiful girl for us, but despite your lack of art supplies in the sky, you did an excellent job of painting a picture for us here with your words. I am always impressed by emotion conveyed with sparse, strong writing. This was really good, Irene.

  45. Greg Olear says:

    I liked this a lot, Irene. I like how the strangeness of the place names becomes a sort of drone, simulating the flight itself. Well done.

  46. Ruthie says:

    Just lovely.

    • Irene Zion says:


      You are always so kind.
      (I’ve already asked if you’ll marry me, right?
      How come you always turn me down?)

  47. Oh, this is such an amazing piece, Irene. Deceptively simple, yet it says so much about both you and our diverse modern humanity.

  48. Irene Zion says:

    Why thank you, Gina!
    Usually people only think about what is wrong with their flights.
    I used to also, until now.
    Having a birthday in the sky changed all that.
    It really is all how you look at it.

  49. Kat says:

    I have always loved you for your completely unique and unvarnished view of the world.

    Every day is an adventure, and every person you meet, a gift. The best part is that you’ll always be 18 in your head. We all need a little more of what you’ve got.


  50. Irene Zion says:

    You are puffing me up!
    You should see the transformation from Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hyde when I get behind the wheel.
    I’m working on that. I really am.
    (Lenore has a really good theory on why a person changes when he is driving a car.)

    • Judy Prince says:

      “(Lenore has a really good theory on why a person changes when he is driving a car.)”

      Irene, I’d love to hear Lenore’s theory; have always wondered about the phenomenon.

      • Irene Zion says:

        I asked Lenore to tell you her theory, and she said she would, however she’s in IKEA now, which is like being at the circus, but you go home with stuff, and she might forget.
        I’ll nag her, if she doesn’t remember.
        She did say to say that it is not just HER theory, it was developed by her and her friend Cecilia, who is also a shrink.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “She did say to say that it is not just HER theory, it was developed by her and her friend Cecilia, who is also a shrink.”

          Duly noted, Irene.

          It’s a wacky phenomenon, and one cannot know how any person, no matter their typical behaviour, will drive. Dear Rodent, the Trolley Beast, for example, is an exemplary driver of automobiles—–oh, oops, except for crashing into the church’s brick wall.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Ah, Judy,
          But that incident took place in the overwhelming fog of love!
          (Totally understandable.)

        • Judy Prince says:

          “But that incident took place in the overwhelming fog of love!”

          I laughed, Irene, and asked dear Rodent if it were true, and he said it was!


        • Irene Zion says:

          Well, Judy, my dear,
          You obviously do not fully comprehend your feminine wiles.
          Sweet, really, not to know your own power.
          Probably one of the many items on Rodent’s list of why he adores you.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You’re sweet, Irene. [blushing]

        • Irene Zion says:

          Pas moi, Judy,
          I’m just the fact lady.
          Nothing more, nothing less.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Au contraire, Irene—–LOTS more!

        • Irene Zion says:

          Simply jibberty-jabber, Judy.
          I excel at jibberty-jabber.

        • Judy Prince says:

          You don’t jibberty-jabber, Irene! You’re wise and funny, and I love it!

          BTW, since for some reason I can’t comment directly on Lenore and Cecilia’s theory, below, I’ll comment on it here. It makes excellent sense, and I would only add that the awesome power of an automobile adds to the heady narcissistic womb-thing about car driving. Here’s the L and C theory of auto behavioury:

          ” . . . my friend Cecilia and i have determined that the car, being a small, enclosed space that you control, is reminiscent of the womb. when we are in the womb, we are at our narcissistic peak – we aren’t even aware of the existence of others. so, when we are in our car wombs, our original narcissism is stirred, and anyone who gets in the way of our id (getting what we want when we want it) is causing minor narcissistic injury and is therefore a just recipient of our wrath.”

          And, Lenore, Ikea is overrated, but difficult to top. Seems like a quality used-furniture store might be useful, but may necessitate a hunt for the store and the quality furniture in it or them.

      • Lenore says:

        my friend Cecilia and i have determined that the car, being a small, enclosed space that you control, is reminiscent of the womb. when we are in the womb, we are at our narcissistic peak – we aren’t even aware of the existence of others. so, when we are in our car wombs, our original narcissism is stirred, and anyone who gets in the way of our id (getting what we want when we want it) is causing minor narcissistic injury and is therefore a just recipient of our wrath.

        ikea was a madhouse.

        the end.

  51. Irene Zion says:

    Hi Duff,

    I hope that’s a good “wow” and not a bad “wow.”
    I’m just going to be positive about this and shoot for a good one.

  52. Judy Prince says:

    Happy birthday, my dear Irene, TNB Queen.

    Your writing gave me goose bumps all the way through, wanting to have you and Victor and me on the ground and safe. We pray and pour help and strong thoughts, and we do so hope it works, that people will be more free, that all of our despots will back away, disappear, let governments be a strong-cover-from-all-corners of the people; that our USA government will follow suit rather than continuing to reward the rich and squash the middles and poors.

    Why does Victor wear a blanket on his head?

  53. Irene Zion says:

    Welcome, Judy!

    Victor wears a blanket over his head every single time we fly, even if it’s a short flight.
    It makes it dark, so he can sleep more easily, and he claims that if he breathes in his exhaled carbon dioxide it makes him sleepy.
    It’s just a thing he does.
    He could sleep standing up under klieg lights while a marching band was playing.
    I am SO envious.

    • Judy Prince says:

      “He could sleep standing up under klieg lights while a marching band was playing.
      I am SO envious.”

      Me, too. Dear Rodent sleeps the entire flight across the pond, most likely bcuz he doesn’t want to think about not being able to smoke his pipe for 21 hours (though he doesn’t sleep in the no-smoking airports).

      Maybe it’s a man thing, or a husband thing. I dunno, just like I dunno if indeed inhaling one’s carbon dioxide makes a person sleepy, as Victor says. I would think it’d make you faint, though.

      BTW, I’m not getting TNB-emailed responses to my comments and wonder why. Is it the same with you?

      • Irene Zion says:

        It’s the famous TNB poltergeist, Judy.
        I only get about 25% of the ping-backs, (I think that’s what they’re called, but don’t bet the farm on it.)
        The only thing I get more of, say 70%, is when I make a comment.
        Now, I already know when I make a comment, not being as of yet totally demented, so I wish the poltergeist would switch the figures.
        Sometimes I get nothing at all and I just have to look now and then and see if someone commented.
        Dastardly TNB poltergeist!

        • Judy Prince says:

          AHA! The TNB poltergeist! You’re right, Irene.

          And, yes, I don’t need to know the comment I just made—–I need to know the RESPONSE to my comment!!!! DUH…….

          As it happens, I got BOTH your recent responses. TNB poltergeist scared by our exposing it? I certainly hope so.

        • Irene Zion says:

          That’s simply another trick, Judy.
          The TNB Poltergeist is just toying with us.
          Trust me.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “The TNB Poltergeist is just toying with us.
          Trust me.”

          You are right, Irene. I didn’t get TNB-generated messages of your last two responses.


        • Irene Zion says:

          I haven’t been around for centuries without taking any notes, you know.
          I know LOTS of stuff, it’s just that most of it is useless.
          My brain is a mystery even to itself.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I’ll have to disagree with you, Irene, about most of the stuff you know being useless. The LOTS of stuff you know benefits LOTS of people. TNB folk, in particular, are appreciative of your knowledge and wisdom. I count myself so fortunate to have fallen in with you and learned so much from you. You don’t hold back. You yield to your urge to help people. You take the time and the energy to offer us what we may need, sometimes when we don’t even realise we need it!

          Blessings to you, my dear!

  54. Irene Zion says:


    I accept all blessings, so I thank you for that.
    I’ll need it because my head is swelling so fast that it is very soon going to burst.

    Too late.
    My head burst.
    I’ll be needing that blessing now, please.
    (and a mop and a bucket….)

  55. Irene Zion says:

    You would absolutely be amazed at the mess created by the explosion of my tiny little brain.
    It’s everywhere, floor, walls, coffee maker….

  56. Irene Zion says:

    If I am wise, then you have to agree that IKEA is the most fun ever and they have terrific stuff.
    (Put yourself in a bind, there, didn’t you?)

    Here’s a trick. If you want Lenore to see what you say, even though you can’t comment directly underneath her, you write: “@ Lenore”
    Same for anyone else, obviously.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Irene, you exploded-brain woman, I agree with you that Ikea’s awesome, but was trying to suggest places that Lenore could go without the madding crowd. Ah well, maybe it’s still the best place.

      Somehow I can’t get happy about using the @ sign in front of a name to address them. On non-TNB sites, I do it, but it seems a distancey thing, an address to someone I’ll never know the real name of or anything else about nor become a friend to.

  57. […] and her husband, the sleep-deprived Victor, are world travelers.Β  They have been to Dubai, New Orleans, Chicago, Zimbabwe, and a long long road […]

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