A Truly Smashing Poem that Will Knock Your Socks Off
I recently revisited this amazing poem by Ellen Bass, co-author with Laura Davis of that landmark book for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Courage to Heal. All her poems are exquisite, but this one is a very special gem to me. It comes from her book, The Human Line.
I love the particular way she combines earthy sensuality with spiritual mystery. Her emotional depth is dizzying. I love the idea that in all kinds of places, there’s an Ellen Bass, quietly and unobtrusively watching moments like the one recorded here - in some random airport or restaurant or public park.
She zaps the ordinary with meaning. And she lets us know we’re so much bigger and better than we think.
So here is Gate C22. Enjoy.
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.