Observations at the security checkpoint

Joel Brouwer

We should be glad our safety and security
are someone’s top priority, yet we
can’t help but hope for fresh announcements
in the terminal. Your personal integrity
is our first concern. We strive to increase
your capacity for grief. Here at Flying Air,
beauty matters more. An officer takes
the ancient Indian woman’s hand
and gently swabs for the promise of a bomb.
I hold my arms up in the scanner as if
already guilty and the machine churns
a circular blessing or judgment around me.
We all have bodies here for you to see.
I like all the little wounds, the scrape
on the back of this man’s neck,
blue penny of bruise on a child’s leg,
this woman’s black toenail suddenly
among us like a cricket when she takes
off her shoe to be searched. What caused
these harmless injuries? I’m outraged
by their tenderness, their benignity,
I want to kiss them better immediately,
my dear comrades in the GWAT must not
be suffered to suffer. Not even these
despondent retirees behind me in line.
Every two minutes she asks What’s wrong?
and he replies Nothing. Now our gestures
grow both more hurried and more delicate,
we stand on one foot to remove a boot,
take off our hats and jackets, as if for
sex or prayer, exposing ourselves to
each other and the officers, the officers
our lovers and our prophets both. Mastery
or surrender, the speakers assert
through static, are the only viable conduits
to the terminus of questions and the bliss
which awaits us there or at our final
destinations. All these moderns are
so smitten with the image of Montaigne
riding the vineyards of Bordeaux wholly
open to any question. They slide by
the fact that he believed in God.
At every step the hooves beneath him
clopped solid ground, never thrust through
into vacancy, bad turbulence, sudden
changes in cabin pressure. I lay my banana
on the belt and watch the officer
scan it on his screen, it seems so silly,
I watch him, smiling, hoping he’ll look up
and smile back, but he stares sternly
at the monitor, my banana must be taken
seriously. A young woman massages
her young boyfriend’s forehead and face
with such strong rhythmic pressure,
almost fury, as if demanding something,
they are adorable, hands all over
each other, reminding me of religious kids
when the lid finally blows off, they get
so humid with each other. People forget,
or fail or fear to savor, how thrilling it is
to cork desire, the blast that never
comes, the banana just a banana, no trace
explosive on the ancient woman’s hands,
no news flash. Such sweet disappointments.
Our electronic devices powered down,
our own power put down, we have nothing
to look at but the empty space ahead
or each other. A quick pitch and yaw
lifts our stomachs and casts them aside,
a girl turns to me from her makeup kit,
her eyes are wide, I take her hand, how could
she ever be my enemy? She’s going
to Houston. I’m going to Houston too


Art by Daniel Toby Gonzalez

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, poet Joel Brouwer is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Syracuse University. Brouwer is the author of several collections of poetry, including AND SO; CENTURIES, a National Book Critics Circle Notable Book; and EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED, winner of the Larry Levis Reading Prize from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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