Monday, November 5, 2007

Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver)

I've been a fan of Ellen Bass since I discovered her poem, Pray for Peace, in The Sun Magazine in June 2003 - something about her straight-to-the-heart approach still resonates with me. The poem below, which I've been meaning to use in a blog post, appeared in today's Writer's Almanac - as Doris Lessing said, "coincidence is god's way of remaining anonymous"...

The first time I read Gate C22, I instantly flashed back to Fall 1971 - I was a senior in high school, and I was dating Dave Bovie, a freshman in college (Georgia Tech). Every month or so, we'd drive to the Atlanta Airport, go inside... and one of us would pretend to be disembarking from a plane and the other would be waiting, presumably after a long and heartbreaking absence - we would run into each other's arms, hugging and kissing and smiling... and delight in the reactions of the passersby ("oh, how sweet"... "young love"... "I remember when my partner and I used to greet each other that way"). It's easy to have someone look at you with adoration when you're 17 but it's magical indeed when the same feelings are evoked in middle age - I can luckily say I have been, and continue to be( even now at the age of 53) the recipient of such a gaze from my long-patient and ever-blinder-wearing husband.

The postscript to the story is that, following the reunion re-enactment, we'd get back in the car and drive as close to the runway as we could, before we encountered gates, at which point we'd stretch out on the ground and watch the planes landing or taking off almost directly overhead - as we used to say... what a rush! I can't help but wonder whatever happened to DB - he sure knew how to show a girl a good time... :-)

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he'd just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she'd been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching —
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn't look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after — if she beat you or left you or
you're lonely now — you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman's middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

QUOTE: "To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward." ~ Margaret Fairless Barber

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