Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Rita Dove

The Academy of American Poets is featuring some new work by established poets. I found one by Rita Dove entitled "Vacation"--which I probably latched onto because I could really use one--and I was struck by how much I resonated with the experience in the poem. It is included in a new collection entitled On the Wing: American Poems of Air and Space Flight.

Airports are often discussed as stressful, inconvenient, even dangerous places; but I have always loved the feeling of hanging out, waiting to board, having no place to be in that moment but in my chair, reading or sipping coffee. It's almost a time-out-of-time experience, maybe because I have no control over the schedule. I will move when instructed, and leave the plane when intructed. Kind of a relief after all the decision-making I do in my daily life.


I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Rita Dove


Gilbert Koh said...

Can't say I like this one. To me, this is one of those poems where the poet sets out to describe the literal scene in some interesting manner, but doesn't really have any epiphany or fresh insight to offer ...

Amy said...


Yes, this does not quite fit into my usual preference for more postmodern work. I do like, however, the way this disparate community of travelers "leap[s] up" to form a community--Flight 828--when commanded by the speaker. I am interested in how communities of people can be formed from various circumstances, even when we don't realize it.