Poetry Sunday: “Lament for Airports,” by Persis Karim


Lament for Airports

Where we land and take off,
where we imagine our flight
and freedom, where we greet
our relatives for the first time
or again after a long absence,
where we elate at the arrival
of a friend or a grandfather
sick with cancer in need of care,
or where we depart for a vacation
where the weather is warm, or to
a place that calls us back, even if
it is no longer home, or to a country
we’ve dreamed of seeing since
childhood, or because we must leave
where we were born out of fear,

where we wait, where we anticipate
runways and gates, where we stand
in long lines to undress and dress,
where we rush and run so we’re not late,
and bear gifts, baggage, and histories,
where we call to say goodbye or report
our status or the delays or express
our love before we ascend into the ether

at the station that connects us
for a small moment in the human
traffic of miles and kilometers and time
zones, where our molecules gather
at one location and cross the border-
less sky in cold and light and dark
through distance and distant
feelings across this small planet
without suspicion or names
or the need for a passport

only to now find that the strange
comfort of being a passenger,
a traveler in the intimacy of an airport
that once saved us from our own blindness
now tests us at the gates of a country
we no longer know or recognize.


Persis Karim is a poet, editor, and professor of literature and creative writing at San Jose State University as well as the founding director of Persian Studies there. She is the editor of three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature, the most recent of which is Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian-American Writers published by University of Arkansas Press. She has also written scholarly articles about literature and the culture of the Iranian-American experience. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Callaloo, The New York Times, Culture Strike, Reed Magazine, and Caesura. Website: www.persiskarim.com.


Poet’s Note

When I was a child, my father traveled a great deal overseas for his job as a mining engineer and consultant. He traveled to so many countries. Among the ones I remember (because he always brought me back a souvenir from wherever he traveled, and I still possess these), my father traveled to Japan, Suriname, Yugoslavia, Australia, Greece, Iran, Brazil, and France. Piling into our Chevrolet station wagon with my five siblings and my mother every few months and heading to San Francisco International Airport to greet our father was among my fondest childhood memories. I loved the airport scene: the hustle and bustle, seeing people greet their family and friends, watching people’s emotional outbursts of joy and sadness, but also observing their faces. They were the faces of travelers and immigrants, faces of people like my father who had seen things, had seen this earth, brought back its gifts and stories. Those airport visits were full of emotion. This was before metal detectors, body scans, 9/11, and also before computers, cell phones, and iPads. People looked into each other’s eyes. This poem came out of me when I thought of the sadness of airports after the recent Muslim Ban; this executive order turns us away from the open-hearted, compassionate, and humane disposition I’ve associated with the United States, the country that welcomed my immigrant parents.

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  • Susan F. March 28, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    At first I was tickled to envision the “Love Actually” airport scenes in the wonderful poem. (Director Richard Curtis was inspired by being stuck in LAX airport and watching people greet each other at Arrivals. So, at Heathrow Airport, he had a hidden camera where he filmed travelers’ embraces for a week and a half. These poignant candid scenes are shown at the movie’s end.) Upon closer inspection, I realized the deeper meaning of the poem and the message that it sends isn’t so candy-coated. The airport experience for immigrants has become alarming and truly lamentable.

  • Tamam March 26, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Wonderful poem. Thanks, Becky!

  • Susanna Gaertner March 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Oh how this resonates after an appalling exit from the San Jose airport recently when, despite TSA pre-check approval, I was subjected to my first ever “random pat down” which was anything but random or a pat…more like a targeted, intense groping on the eve of my 70th birthday. A fellow traveler, witnessing this public humiliation, thought to help by telling me that “drugs are now placed with children and grannies.” (Drugs out of the country?) An experience to forget, as are the now haunted, harried arrivals and departures once so keenly anticipated and appreciated.