Friday, November 30, 2007


A friend wrote me of travel delays caused by train strikes in Europe right now. It reminded me of my most memorable travel delay.

While en route from Seattle to Basel (through New York, Milan, and Zurich), we landed at Kennedy Airport five minutes after the August '03 blackout began. This would have been a horrible experience, but one of the two flights that left during the night was our flight to Milan, so for us the tragedy was a comedy: an extra six-hour layover with a three-year-old, but when we took off from Kennedy, it was 12:30 a.m., so Miles went right to sleep (it being 9:30 p.m. in Seattle), and he slept straight through to Milan.

Plus there was an Israeli youth orchestra stranded at the airport, and the kids serenaded people for several hours.

I did write a poem about it, but it never quite came together. Here's where it was when I abandoned it.


Rumor stumbles round in JFK,
Terminal One, International Flights.

Our flight from Seattle arrived just after the lights
went out. Deplaning was delayed:

there weren't enough mechanical stairs to go round.
AM radio was on the intercom for a few moments

of fumbling speculation: "We cannot rule out
terrorism; we cannot rule out terrorism."

Freed when our plane's turn for the stairs came,
we followed unlit TRANSFER signs here

to our puny little corner with a view
of the Alitalia check-in counter.

The bathrooms are lit by emergency power.
The toilets are still flushing; one faucet's stuck.

The travelers are sprawled across the floor like cattle
chewing cuds, only it's cake and nuts,

all that's left at the cafés and fast-food outlets
staying open to sell their perishables.

Humor mumbles up and keeps us cool
as the air surrenders its condition.

Every hour or two, we hear the news:
the power will return in three or four.

We'll connect to Switzerland; others
to Senegal or Macedonia.

Beside their great wooden boxes, two bright-robed men
from Dakar are leaning against the counter.

The Asian-American woman going to Skopje calls
the Balkans and Los Angeles on her cell.

Sudden music jingles through the hall:
"Stars and Stripes Forever," bringing cheers.

It's an Israeli youth orchestra playing
one last encore at the end of its tour.

They make their way from there to klezmer;
two leaping clarinets accelerando.

Then Alitalia smuggles us through security
and onto a midnight plane, with nobody's luggage.

After transferring to Zurich in Milan,
we will not miss our bags on the train to Basel,
Everywhere, the lights will be on.


I recall that I had worked further with it, and the line that I remember liking was something like this:

And nine months later, a round
of babies on the East Coast, and blackout
poems in the little magazines.

I'm not sure whether either of those statistical spikes actually happened. :-)

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