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Gate C22
Ellen Bass


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.

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). 
Used with the author's permission.

Ellen Bass is the author of numerous books of award-winning poetry and nonfiction. Widely published in leading journals, she has founded poetry workshops in prisons, taught in the MFA writing program at Pacific University,
and is now producing a series of online workshops called "Living Room Craft Talks." Learn more about Ellen at



Post New Comment:
Thank you for letting me see that story.
Posted 07/05/2024 09:28 PM
Larry Schug:
A poem deserving many readings.
Posted 07/05/2024 05:26 PM
Thanks for this.
Posted 07/06/2014 01:22 PM
You captured it, we see it. And we, too, want to slip into her body. Thanks, Ellen!
Posted 07/05/2014 03:22 PM
wendy morton:
Who can resist a poem that is filled with music and grace? A big kiss to Ellen for this great poem.
Posted 07/05/2014 12:20 PM
"Neither of them was young." That's where it really pulls me in. Lovely.
Posted 07/05/2014 10:15 AM
beautiful, sweet as in sweeeeeeeeeeet.
Posted 07/05/2014 08:02 AM
Gilbert Allen:
Vivid, emotionally resonant, and deftly phrased. A lovely poem.
Posted 07/05/2014 07:57 AM
Bravissima! I am standing right there with everyone else, head tilted up, breath this little while suspended.
Posted 07/05/2014 05:47 AM
I've worked at airports. I've seen that kiss. Why the hell didn't I write that poem? Gorgeous!
Posted 07/04/2014 11:27 PM
What a fine fun poem. Great selection.
Posted 07/04/2014 11:12 PM

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