Dana Gioia has published five collections of poetry, most recently 99 Poems: New & Selected. A former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he now serves as the poet laureate of California. “Travel” is the second part of a forthcoming book-length poem called The Underworld, which depicts a descent into the mythic kingdom of the dead. Here, the unnamed central character speaks for the first time.
To lean over the rail of an ocean liner
above the crowded dock as the gangway rises
and the blast horn bellows its throbbing farewell,
scattering the screeching gulls, and the great vessel
slides through the azure harbor to the open sea
is an experience I prefer to see on screens.
The images of holiday cruise buffets,
iced pyramids of rosy shrimp and crab claws,
slabs of smoked salmon, lattices of fresh cut cheese,
ripened tomatoes, artichokes with aproned sous-chefs
slicing pink roast beef, give me mal de mer.
I hunger most to quench my appetites.
While my workmates gush over colorful brochures,
enraptured by the enticing maps and menus—
one click away—to easily affordable adventures,
I fantasize of staying at home alone,
free of the office, every phone and screen turned off,
sprawled on the couch with a book and mug of coffee.
Let someone else ascend the heights of Machu Picchu,
tramp through marshes terrifying the flamingos
or navigate the Gulf of Aden in a dhow.
I’m satisfied to get a postcard with a foreign stamp.
I feel no need to vacate my own existence.
Isn’t the point to be happy where you are?
But so little in life is about being happy.
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