Poem of the Week | October 02, 2008
Ellen Bass: "Gate C 22"
This week’s poem is “Gate C 22” by Ellen Bass, which originally appeared in TMR 25:1 (2002). Bass won our 2001 Editor’s Prize for her selection of poems.
We’ve just extended our deadline for this year’s Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize Contest: the new deadline is October 8th. Send poems via post, or send them online!
Ellen Bass has published four volumes of poetry, including The Human Line (Copper Canyon 20007) and Mules of Love (BOA 2002, winner of the Lambda Literary Award). She co-edited No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women. Her nonfiction books include I Never Told Anyone, Free Your Mind, and The Courage to Heal. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University, and lives in Santa Cruz, CA, where she has taught creative writing since 1974.
Gate C 22
At gate C 22 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 satin ribbons tying up a gift. And kissing.
Like she’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released 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
she kept saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning
of a calm day at Big Sur, the way it gathers
and swells, taking each rock slowly
in its mouth, sucking it under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching—
the passengers waiting for the delayed flight to San José,
the stewardesses, the pilots, the aproned woman icing
Cinnabons, the guy selling sunglasses. We couldn’t
look away. We could taste the kisses, crushed
in our mouths like the liquid centers of chocolate cordials.
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
opened from giving birth, like 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 gazing at you
like you were the first sunrise seen from the earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
each of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse,
little gold hoop earrings, glasses,
all of us, tilting our heads up.
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