July 28, 2002

A Transit Rife With Perils

by Gary Krist

Sing to me of the man, O Muse, that man of wile and craft,
And how he roamed both long and far in the summer of ’02.
His goal: To make one simple flight
From the hallowed city of New York
To Reagan National—his Ithaca—near DC.
Many were the security checks he weathered,
And many the long delays—at gate, on tarmac, and in air—
As he did battle with the ill-conspiring Fates
That sought to keep him from his wife and home.

At check-in, this godlike man endured his first great trial.
An hour he stood in line, and then
An overbearing Nymph did try to block his way,
Inquiring if he had packed his mighty sea chest all himself
And if he’d had it always in his sight since then.
But ah, our trickster hero knew it best to lie,
And so said yes (although he’d really left his chest
Unheeded on a wine-dark Midtown street
While seeking out a taxicab to Queens).

His troubles, though, had only just begun.
For at the X-ray post, a burly Cyclops of fierce mien
Did pull him from the line to check his sandals.
He passed this test, but then the vulgar beast
Did ope our hero’s sea chest.
“What now,” he roared, “This sly-concealéd corkscrew,
Forged in great Hephaestus’ fire—
‘Tis like a weapon in disguise, as deadly as a spear,
And sharp enough to put out someone’s eye!”

Suspicions raised, the Cyclops drew the traveler aside
To question him at length about his journey,
And when at last our ill-starred man escaped,
The gate was closed, and he diverted to a less convenient flight
With a change of plane in Memphis.
“Ye Gods!” he cried. “What have I done your ire to deserve?”
For Memphis, as he knew, was not unlike dread Hades:
Home to a long-departed god, and like to be
A transit rife with perils and foul music.

So on he went to Tennessee, across the sky’s broad back,
With naught but sorrow for a seatmate.
But then, somewhere betwixt the Scylla of Columbus
And Wheeling’s wild Charybdis,
The clouds did darken like Poseidon’s brow,
And Aeolus’ bag of winds did burst apart.
His plane was tossed like dice in a gambler’s cup,
Until at last their captain spoke the fateful words:
“The storm’s too fierce. We’re heading for O’Hare.”

O’Hare! O’Hare! The word was like a dagger to his heart,
For everyone who traveled knew that name:
A Lotus-eaters’ land, where men flew in
But ne’er came out again,
A god-forsaken place that, Circe-like,
Turned even patient men to savage beasts.
What hope was there of ever getting home
When once entrappéd in that awful swamp of exile?
How many rosy-fingered dawns would break
Before he’d see the welcome light of home?

I could go on and sing of our stout hero’s further trials,
But no, my Muse grows old and weary of the tale.
Suffice to say that storm-tossed great Odysseus did reach home
Though much the worse for wear and wait.
And e’en when once he stood upon that long-awaited shore,
His endless tribulations were not done.
For as he rushed to greet his fair and loyal wife,
He learned the Gods had played him one last trick:
His checked-in bags, with all his spoils of war,
Were sitting on a flight to LAX.

Gary Krist is a novelist and short story writer