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Vacation By Rita Dove

August 27, 2000

I love the hour before takeoff,

that stretch of no time, no home

but the gray vinyl seats linked like

unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall

be summoned to the gate, soon enough

there'll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers

and perforated stubs--but for now

I can look at these ragtag nuclear families

with their cooing and bickering

or the heeled bachelorette trying

to ignore a baby's wail and the baby's

exhausted mother waiting to be called up early

while the athlete, one monstrous hand

asleep on his duffel bag, listens,

perched like a seal trained for the plunge.

Even the lone executive

who has wandered this far into summer

with his lasered itinerary, briefcase

knocking his knees--even he

has worked for the pleasure of bearing

no more than a scrap of himself

into this hall. He'll dine out, she'll sleep late,

they'll let the sun burn them happy all morning

--a little hope, a little whimsy

before the loudspeaker blurts

and we leap up to become

Flight 828, now boarding at gate 17.

From "The New Breadloaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry," edited by Michael Collier and Stanley Plumly (University Press of New England: 362 pp., $19.95 paper)

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