Poetry: Protocol for waking your neighbor on an airplane

I got into writing poetry for a while last year after visiting the Seattle Poetry Slam with a friend.

I've been back and forth about sharing any of it broadly...but tonight I'm in the mood.

This is one of the first poems I wrote. The dedication is the same as it was when I wrote it: to my sweet Midwestern mother, who loves to get and give hugs.

Protocol for waking your neighbor on an airplane

I was asleep
Thirty-thousand feet above somewhere between Missoula and Billings Montana
Seat-back and tray table in the fully unlocked and un-upright position

Then it happened
Poke poke
Poke poke poke

I stirred violently
A man's round face and a blank stare greeted me from seat 'B'
I then became aware of the half-standing, anxious women in seat 'A'

I collected my music player
And lifted my tray table
And turned my legs to let her pass

And then a question formed in my head
For the round-faced, blank-staring man to my left

What were you thinking?

Was the violent poking of my shoulder an impulsive reaction
or did you have to think about it for a while?
Did you consider poking my leg? Or my ribs?
Help me understand

You're from the west coast, aren't you?

Now I say this with affection
But it's annoyed affection
You see, while I live on the west coast
I am not from the west coast

I am from the Midwest
Home of cows and pigs
Corn and soy beans

The sea of mostly red states
Stretching from Pittsburgh to Denver

Mock us for Nascar
And our backwards politics
And our Wal-Mart formal wear

But on the rare occasion we fly
We know how to wake up a stranger

We are not afraid to place our full palm on a stranger's shoulder
And shake and speak warmly, but firmly
"Sir? Excuse me. This lady has to go."

In coffee shops, grocery stores, and the narrow aisles at Nordstrom's

We will speak to you
And touch you
When we need to get by

And we will expect you to do the same
And when you don't
When you do your nervous
Maybe-if-I-just-sneak-sideways-with-my-arms-held-close-they-won't-notice-me dance

We will look at you weird
And wonder what is wrong with you
And we will tell ourselves "probably from the Seattle"

You see, in the Midwest
There's lots of space

Our roads are wide
And our yards are big
And our drive ways are long

So there's lots of room

For our Ford F-150s
And our Chevy Tahoes
And our above-ground pools

We will claim to enjoy our isolation
But our winters are cold, and lonely, and dark

When going to get milk involves scraping the windshield
For ten minutes
In twenty below wind-chill
And driving twenty miles
Sitting on frigid vinyl
And walking a football field from the parking lot to the front entrance

We will likely hug the first warm body we see

It's self-preservation

We know you city folk think you're packed-in tight

But don't you understand?
It's an illusion

We are all stuck here
On this little rock
Circling a little star
On a little arm
Of a little galaxy
Floating in a void that is cold, and lonely, and dark

So please
Get over your passive-aggressive politeness
And your personal space
We were meant to talk to each other
To touch each other

Live for the random bumps with random strangers along life's random path
Because, in the end
That's all life is

And please
If you like what I write or what I say
Don't give me a nod
Give me a hug

Because I like hugs
And all too soon we will have to pull on hats
And zip up jackets
And venture out
Into a night that is cold, and lonely, and dark

Copyright (c) 2007 Kevin Moore
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

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