By Lloyd Schwartz
Featured Image: Haystack [colon] Autumn by Jean-François Millet 1874
“Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?”
“I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.”
—The Importance of Being Earnest
A big, hefty guy next to me, an even bigger guy
already squeezed into the window seat. Big, pleasant
fellows. Strangers before this three-hour non-stop
domestic flight. But they’ve been talking away non-stop
since before take-off. Talking business. Talking sports.
China. India (my next-seat neighbor might have been
from India). Talking Cubs and Red Sox (they both love
them both). Google. The Euro. Leverage. Banks. Bailouts.
Masters of Money (“It will change the way you think”).
Great deals and missed opportunities. Exxon. Fracking.
Megabus. Amtrak. Breakdowns. Lost luggage and
missed connections. A good place to stay in Detroit.
Neither Cheez-Its nor Diet Cokes inhibit the juggernaut.
So much experience, so many theories, so much
friendly advice. The urgent need to tell each other
everything they know before the flight is over—
the Indian fellow occasionally bumping my left arm
in his enthusiasm. “Exactly!” “Absolutely!”
All they’ve learned and thought, pouring out.
Pouring out, yet steering clear of delicate subjects: politics
(they know better than that), or home (an hour into the flight,
“my wife” has become “ex-wife”). No names.
Nothing about movies or television. No mention of
any other book. No music. But thoroughly tuned in
to each other (“Exactly!” “Absolutely!”),
handing over and taking in
whatever they can in 195 minutes—
like old friends.
As we begin our rough descent, a startling
silence fills the cabin. One of them has drifted
into sleep. Stretching to look out the window
I can make out farmland, roads, then tractors,
and cars. Some bumps, and the sleeper awakes.
But the conversation is over. Shutting down.
Touching down. Each of us left with our own thoughts
of arrival or another departure. Then the busy powering up
of phones, the clumsy lowering of overhead bags.
Jamming the aisle, eager to get off and on
with our lives. No handshakes. No goodbyes. But
separated in the crowd, and each with a little wave,
they call out. “Sam.” “Andy.”
Lloyd Schwartz is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English Emeritus at UMass Boston, the longtime classical music critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, and the 2019-2021 Poet Laureate of Somerville, Massachusetts. His awards include NEA and Guggenheim Foundation fellowships for poetry and a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His most recent poetry collections are Little Kisses (2017) and Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems (2021), with the University of Chicago Press.
Originally appeared in NOR 17