Ellen Bass is a contemporary American poet, whose works are full of humanism and simple people. “Gate C22” is one of the most popular poems by Bass. In 2007, it was published in her seventh book of poems, The Human Line. Although the poem’s narrative is presented as the observation of two people kissing in the airport, it is quite personal due to its powerful lstylistic devices and symbolic images. The poem is a peculiar sketch of a situation in the airport because it portrayes a dynamic image with many passages and dimensions.
The first thing about the poem that draws attention is the title. Gate C22 is a connotation of a place where separations and reunions happen, so the reader is ready to perceive a story with one of these motifs. The poem is similar to a drama remark, as it invities leading and secondary characters to the place in order to describe everything better. At the same time, it resembles a detailed description of a photographic image, which represents a moment in the airport that hides many deep symbols beneath its flat image.
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The structure of this poem is a free verse, which has two main measures that divide the poem into three parts. Each part reveals a new dimension of the image as if it is zoomed closer with the camera. The narrative of the first part represents the place – the Portland airport and two people kissing while random passengers create the atmosphere of the surrounding. Two leading characters are in the centre of a busy airport life. The still image is set in the dynamic one: “Long after / the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons / and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking, / the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other…” The kiss in the first part of the poem is a symbol of a reunion of two people. Obviously, the speaker, the third person, is not aware of the reasons for the separation, so she uses similie to explain how strong their feeling is. He looked “like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,” and her character is described as if “she’d snapped out of a coma, survived bone cancer.” To exaggerate the airport busy atmosphere, the author uses alliterations within the words-symbols denoting the airport: “clicked the handles” and “wheeled briskly.” These phrases support the dynamic of the background picture with the flowing and rhythmic repetition of sounds /k/ and /l/. Besides, the first passage of the poem provides a mute allusion to the lives of the characters and hint at their social status. The readers are not informed about the age of these people, but they feel that the protagonists are middle-class and not young, because the similies clarifies that they experienced a lot in their lives.
The first line of the second passage informs the readers about the age of the two people with the direct connotation, “Neither of them was young. His beard was gray. / She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine / her saying she had to lose.” The latter description is hardly poetic, but rather a narrative one. However, it is important for the further metaphors and a symbol of ocean, which is the most powerful and vivid in the poem.
The simple description of people who are not perfect and do not fit in the stereotypical vision of the passionate lovers contrasts with the expression of their feeling. It creates ambiguity in their age, appearance, and circumstances they experience while portrayed kissing, “they kissed lavish / kisses like the ocean in the early morning.” The line expresses a strong similie, where the kiss is compared to the ocean, not sea or, as it is usual for describing kisses, fire. Moreover, in this line alliteration of water-like sounds is used. It combines the sounds /l/, /s/, and /ʃ/ into rhythmic periods that remind ocean waves rising from the water and covering the coast one by one, creating a calm and still sound image within the connotation. The chosen similie seems flat while the alliteration is rhythmic in this line. In the next sentence, it grows from a simple similie into a more powerful metaphor of an avalanche, “the way it gathers and swells, sucking / each rock under, swallowing it / again and again.”
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The avalanche metaphor is the climax of the poem. It expresses the prominence of the moment and an eternity of love, particularly between these people. Bass uses a very interesting poetic element. The metaphor contains a personification, where ocean swallows rocks. She expresses the human action through the nature image, which is compared to another human action. As a result, the kiss becomes bigger than just a kiss. It symbolizes the natural harmony, long-expected reunion, and eternal love. The metaphor is also a rhythmic centre of the poem, as the whole poem moving from stanza to stanza sounds like a tide rising from the ocean and falling. The metaphor amplifies the literal description of the kissers to the aesthetic pleasure of rhythmic combinations and alliterations.
The third part of the poem returns the reader to the literal scale of the images – the tide is falling, but it rises again into another powerful similie, “as though he were a mother still open from giving birth.” The kiss is compared to the mystery of birth. The symbol touches the themes of birth and death, love and life. It slows the poem down in its rhythmic flow. The image is zoomed to the close-up of the man’s face and then, embraces the larger image again to show how the rush of the airport stopped in order to observe something real, but at the same time mysterious. The metaphor is also an allusion to the biblical pattern that tells that God created Eve out of Adam’s rib. Those were the first people, who were pure and innocent in their love in the same way as the couple in the airport. They pay no attention to the busy airport, people clicking their carry-ons, stewardesses and pilots running around. They do not notice the airport that hushes observing them. Both are absorbed in each other as if they are alone on the whole Earth. After this metaphor, the image zooms back and the airport is described again in a literal way. People criticize, but everyone feels that they want to be this woman. Even though she is described as an ordinary middle-aged woman, wearing Bermuda shorts and having some extra kilograms. Her appearance in the second stanza is valuable for understanding her character, but in the third part, it becomes unimportant. The significant features of the woman’s image are love and her inner expression which contrast with her appearance. This difference is more vivid because of this.
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To conclude, the poem is a free verse without rhyme, but its rhythm and alliterations inside each stanza create clear poetic periods. There is a central metaphor of ocean-kiss, which becomes also the rhythmic and conceptual centre of the poem. The structure of the poem reminds the tides rising and falling. It is expressed rhythmically, as well as by alternations of literal and metaphorical passages of the poem.