A poem: “After I learned my flight was delayed four hours” (Gate A4)


Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

Albuquerque International Airport, at Gate A4

After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
Questions.

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city's sister cities.  Wikipedia image

Banner inside Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) showing the city’s sister cities. Wikipedia image

The title of this poem is “Gate A4.”

Naomi Shihab Nye (b. 1952), “Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal.” I think this poem may be making the rounds, this week, but that’s as it should be. (via

awelltraveledwoman) (Source: oliviacirce, via awelltraveledwoman)

Certainly this is copyrighted, and you’ll honor that by making sure that the name of the poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, remains attached to it.

It’s National Poetry Month.

Analyzing this piece, I’m not sure where the greater poetry is, whether the meter, or the story.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Kelly Sennholz, who Tweeted links.

Is this viral yet? (More, and resources):

What do you see when the Southwest Airlines craft finally takes off?

YouTube caption:

Published on Sep 25, 2013

A Southwest Airlines 737-700 takes off from Albuquerque, New Mexico (ABQ) for a flight to Chicago Midway (MDW) in September 2013.

Southwest's gates at Albuquerque International Airport

Southwest’s gates at Albuquerque International Airport, on Concourse A

3 Responses to A poem: “After I learned my flight was delayed four hours” (Gate A4)

  1. Ian Egan says:

    It doesn’t matter if it’s a story, a poem, prose… it’s beautiful. And there’s always a place for beauty.

    Like

  2. Jamie Dedes says:

    A lovely post. Naomi is certainly one of my faves and this is such an enjoyable poem. A wise lady as well as a talented one.

    Thanks for including my link here.

    Like

  3. […] here. It’s by Naomi Shihab […]

    Like

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