Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kansas is just a concept (Sunday's Poem, 22)

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

by Tony Hoagland

At this height, Kansas
is just a concept,
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section
of my neighbor's travel magazine.
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance
between myself and my own feelings
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York,
so I can lean back into the upholstered interval
between Muzak and lunch,

a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy
backyard kind of kid,

tilting up my head to watch
those planes engrave the sky
in lines so steady and so straight

they implied the enormous concentration
of good men,
but now my eyes flicker

from the in-flight movie
to the stewardess's pantyline,
then back into my book,

where men throw harpoons at something
much bigger and probably
better than themselves,

wanting to kill it,
wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt
to prove that they exist.

Imagine being born and growing up,
rushing through the world for sixty years
at unimaginable speeds.

Imagine a century like a room so large,
a corridor so long
you could travel for a lifetime

and never find the door,
until you had forgotten
that such a thing as doors exist.

Better to be on board the Pequod,
with a mad one-legged captain
living for revenge.

Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face,
to hold your sharpened weapon high,

to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves.
What a relief it would be

to hear someone in the crew
cry out like a gull,
Oh Captain, Captain! Where are we going now?


I picked this poem based on the title alone, at first, doing so because one of the main reasons I love flying is that it represents absolute freedom to read. Every other time in your life that you choose to just sit and read a book, there are are 10,000 other things you could be doing: yardwork, housework, work-work...but on a plane, you are free to do...nothing. Nothing but read.

Then, when I read the poem, I liked how it captured the moment of reading on the plane, and expanded it to something else, to the daydreaming that occurs on a plane linked to the daydreaming that occurs as a child and the dreaming that occurs when reading, and contrasted that all with the reality of life. In the end, I think the poem stands for the concept that it is the things that occur in our dreams and imaginations that are far better than the things we experience in real life.

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