I've been lucky these last few years to do a lot of traveling. I love traveling -- and in the past year six months alone, have been blessed to be on five different continents -- but no matter what the class of service, I don't like the actual experience of flying.
I do like airports, however. I like exploring, always hunting for the unique in places that are deliberately designed to be anything but. I always try and pop my head into airport chapels, too. This week's poem, from Al Maginnes, is perfect.
Mostly they are filled by the waiting we hope occupies
the relatives and lovers
at the flight’s other end. Plain, vaguely Christian in design,
professing no denomination, offer nothing to frighten off
a skittish Catholic
or stubborn back-row Baptist. I can never resist
the same way my eyes always rake Playboy’s cover,
hoping in both cases
to spy what is usually hidden. The nervous might invest
a moment there
in the same spirit they might once have purchased
the flight insurance
you could buy in airports. While the skycap wrestled
your luggage, you could write
a check and drop it in a steel box, so that if your plane exploded
your survivors would be
taken care of. I’ve never taken haven in those rooms,
never gone in
to offer even a quick prayer to the gods of light while
my hand makes
the sign of the cross, “a slow four" my jazz friend calls it.
His wife told me
about praying for him in the chapel of a hospital,
filled with souls in transit, while he murmured words
out of a language
he barely speaks. He came back to his body,
of where he’d been, cursing the suddenly resistant
doors and staircases
of the world. The task of airports is not resistance
so that we are swallowed by the time between flights.
We can eat
half a dozen bad versions of regional cuisine
the unnecessary in an assortment of stores or drink
in a fake Irish pub.
Or we can yield to the claim churches make
some corner of the eternal and find refuge from
of the terminal, the endless loop of CNN, the garble
of arrival and departure,
and hide in the cul-de-sac of a room with a plain altar,
fake stained glass,
a rail where one might kneel to imagine communion.
if there is a cross, will not be adorned by a body.
Nothing here will
remind us how quickly flesh turns to mortal ruin
or that in an hour
someone standing on the ground will look up
the small cross-shape of the plane burning
across the vast
desert of sky, tiny spark that, for the length
of the flight, holds
my faith and the faith of everyone on board,
as clear as the silver cross nestled against the throat
of the ticket agent
who took my bag and wished me a safe flight, the small
blessing all travelers pray for.