I’m spending Thanksgiving in Texas with my girlfriend, which means I’ll once again be boarding a plane in the very near future. It’s crazy, really, the amount of flying I’ve done in the past year, considering how little flying I’d been doing in the last decade. I’m not one of those people who loves or hates flying; rather, it’s a means to an end. The idea of hopping a plane to get where I need to go as opposed to driving x number of hours is obviously preferable. At the same time, flying’s a lie. We book these flights that are “so much faster,” but when you take into account the amount of time it takes to get to the airport, check my luggage, strip my clothes off and go through security where I can argue with TSA about having my junk checked illegaly, reach my gate, line up, board the plane, taxi, take off, fly, land, taxi, claim my bags and exit the airport of my destination, there’s not a goddamn “fast” thing about it. I shouldn’t complain, though. After all, I get to throw on my headphones, read and sleep as opposed to concentrating on the road and screaming at idiotic drivers. Instead, I yell at idiotic passengers in my head who insist on talking to me on the flight, or feel the need to get up every 20 minutes to use the restroom, thereby forcing his entire row to once again stand up and let him through. Or maybe I’m just grumpy this morning.
With that in mind, I’ve chosen a poem by the great Tony Hoagland for today’s Versus. This poem, “Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet,” is from his collection Donkey Gospel. If memory serves, I picked this book up in a used book store in Boston about 10 years ago, and I knew immediately I loved Hoagland’s wit and biting humor. He is an awfully funny writer who is at the same time brilliant and heartfelt. I love, too, that Donkey Gospel opens with a fantastic poem called “Jet,” which is not, in fact, about flying, only to have “Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet” as the book’s third poem. In other words, he wonderfully foreshadows the poem in an incredibly subtle manner.
Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
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?