Titles are important, even more so when they harbor deeper meaning. The word “terminal” in the poem “At the Terminal,” for instance. Innocently, it’s an endpoint to a flight, a place where employees transport you and your possessions. More innocently still, it’s your own demise, which is about as terminal as you can get.
Patricia Hooper’s poem has it both ways. It might strike younger readers as odd, however. Perhaps it’s only the Boomers and the Great Generation (as they are now called) who remember a time when husbands and wives flew separately. For the children, you see. Just in case. Because flying wasn’t as safe as it is deemed to be now.
The end lines, like the title, are equally important to the poem’s message. They are the “terminal” of the poem. And here, thanks to “arc of absence, blinding space” they work overtime, too, as all blue-collar words should.
Read it but repeat after me: Flying is safer than driving. The only thing you’ve got to lose is control of the wheel.
At the Terminal
Remember how we took those separate flights
imagining the worst: our plane gone down,
our children young, alone? I’d leave an hour
before you, wait to meet you at your gate,
or you’d go first, arrive and rent a car,
then meet me at the exit. In between,
blue emptiness, our lives suspended where
clouds stacked themselves between us: you on earth
and I already gone. Or else I’d stand
on solid ground and watch you disappear—
my heart, my shining bird!—a streak of light,
a flash of wing, then nothing. Only one
of us, one at a time. And whether I turned
back to the concourse or pulled down the shade
over the brilliant window, belted in
above the tilting tarmac, I rehearsed
this hour, ever nearer, when the planet
would hold one or the other, and you’d watch—
or I—the earth receding, or look up
into the arc of absence, blinding space.