We Could Taste The Kisses Crushed in Our Mouths…

Gate C22

At gate C22 in the Portland airport 
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed 
a woman arriving from Orange County. 
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after 
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons 
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking, 
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other 
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island, 
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped 
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down 
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing. 

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray. 
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine 
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish 
kisses like the ocean in the early morning, 
the way it gathers and swells, sucking 
each rock under, swallowing it 
again and again. We were all watching– 
passengers waiting for the delayed flight 
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots, 
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling 
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could 
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths. 

But the best part was his face. When he drew back 
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost 
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth, 
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter 
what happened after–if she beat you or left you or 
you’re lonely now–you once lay there, the vernix 
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you 
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth. 
The whole wing of the airport hushed, 
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body, 
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses, 
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up. 


Gate C22 ~ Poetry by Ellen Bass