I suppose if any poem of mine has gotten much attention, "Falling" has. The original idea came out of a newspaper item I once read to the effect that an Allegheny Airlines stewardess had fallen out of an airplane and was found later on, dead. But when you have a little hint like this that entertains your imagination, you take off with it and make your own thing out of it. I made her fall from an airplane over the Midwest. It’s not a jet. People think of it as a jet, but it couldn’t possibly be a jet. If it had been a jet, it would be so high that she would have been flash-frozen. But if you’re a poet, you can make it happen the way you want it to. So I made the plane one that would be flying at a speed and altitude over the Midwest at which such a thing could happen to the stewardess.
"Falling" is a record of the way she feels as she falls; panic at first and then a kind of goddess-like invulnerability. She discovers that the human body can actually fly a little bit. She tries to find water to fall into, but in the end she can’t and falls into a cornfield and dies there. She undresses on the way down, because since she’s going to die she wants to die, as she says, "beyond explanation." She would rather be found naked in a cornfield than in an airline uniform. So she takes off everything, is clean, purely desirable, purely woman, and dies in that way. I also tried to think of the mystical possibility there might be for farmers in that vicinity, under those conditions.
Many different interpretations have been given to this poem. A lot of people say that it’s too far-fetched, that nothing like this would really happen. I’m quite sure it wouldn’t. But I was interested in trying to determine, by using my own particular capacities, what might conceivably go on. I was interested in using the kind of time-telescoping effect that Bergson talks about in discussing the difference between clock time and lived time. It takes twenty minutes to read the poem, more or less. It surely wouldn’t have taken her nearly that long to fall. But as to how long it seemed to her, that’s quite a different thing. Time has a way of widening out when you’re in an extreme adrenalin kind of situation. I felt justified in writing "Falling" the way I did. I wouldn’t want to go back and try to write it again. I suppose there are faults in it which people will be pointing out to me for years, but I did it the way I wanted to do it, and I’ll stand by that.
I evolved the split line to try and do what I could to reproduce as nearly as I could the real way of the mind as it associates verbally. The mind doesn’t seem to work in a straight line, but associates in bursts of words, in jumps. I used this technique for "Falling."