Flight to Limbo

By John Updike 1932–2009 John Updike

(At What Used to Be Called Idlewild)

The line didn’t move, though there were not
many people in it. In a half-hearted light
the lone agent dealt patiently, noiselessly, endlessly
with a large dazed family ranging
from twin toddlers in strollers to an old lady
in a bent wheelchair. Their baggage
was all in cardboard boxes. The plane was delayed,
the rumor went through the line. We shrugged,
in our hopeless overcoats. Aviation
had never seemed a very natural idea.

Bored children floated with faces drained of blood.
The girls in the tax-free shops stood frozen
amid promises of a beautiful life abroad.
Louis Armstrong sang in some upper corner,
a trickle of ignored joy.
Outside, in an unintelligible darkness
that stretched to include the rubies of strip malls,
winged behemoths prowled looking for the gates
where they could bury their koala-bear noses
and suck our dimming dynamos dry.

Boys in floppy sweatshirts and backward hats
slapped their feet ostentatiously
while security attendants giggled
and the voice of a misplaced angel melodiously
parroted FAA regulations. Women in saris
and kimonos dragged, as their penance, behind them
toddlers clutching Occidental teddy bears,
and chair legs screeched in the food court
while ill-paid wraiths mopped circles of night
into the motionless floor.

John Updike, “Flight to Limbo” from Americana and Other Poems. Copyright © 2001 by John Updike. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Poetry (January 1997).

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This poem originally appeared in the January 1997 issue of Poetry magazine

January 1997
 John  Updike

Biography

An acclaimed and award-winning writer of fiction, essays, and reviews, John Updike has also been writing poetry for most of his life. Growing up in Pennsylvania, his early inspiration to be a writer came from watching his mother, an aspiring writer, submit her work to magazines. In an interview Updike stated, “I began as a writer of light verse, and have tried to carry over into my serious or lyric verse something of the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Travels & Journeys, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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