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"Vacation" by Rita Dove

TFTL Rita Dove headshot 2023
Photo by Fred Viebahn



Rita Dove is the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. Ms. Dove was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993-95, the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2004-06, and the 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for her book Thomas and Beulah. Lifetime Learning is honored to highlight three poems from Rita Dove. "Vacation" is our March offering. 






I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Reprinted from Playlist for the Apocalypse (New York: W. W. Norton, 2021) by permission of the author.


TFTL Vacation-Rita Dove airport