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Poetry and Medicine
January 21, 2009

Air Sickness

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2009;301(3):253. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.831

—in memoriam Ralph Keck, 1916-2001

I had a friend who saved them all,
  Air Uzbekistan, Varig, TWA, El Al,
   puddle-jumpers, global giants, fly-
by-nights, the stalwart and the gone,
  Aer Lingus, Qantas, Pan Am, Air Bhutan,
   the pioneers, come-latelys, wide bodies,
prop planes, ANA, BOAC, Aeroflot.
  Prullenzakje in Roman script, something
   else in Arabic, Hindi, Thai, Burmese,
alphabets opaque to me, and hence
  amenable to that awe of the illiterate—
   those graceful pagodas, gibbous moons,
crescents, words grown stroke
  upon ancient stroke—but barf bag
   still, and so I pluck this pale green sack
from the pocket before me on Biman Air,
  borne not by an incontinent urge to puke
   but by the sudden welcome thought of he
who taught me decades ago, on the bumpy
  post-monsoon loop, Chittagong to Dhaka
   to Mymensingh, on our assignment to assess
damage inflicted by the swollen Brahmaputra,
  how to withstand turbulence, and measure loss.