The Lady in 38C – The Sunday Travel Poem is by Lori Jakiela

Top of Mayan Pyramid, Tonino

Put your arms in the air with joy.

The world would be a less interesting place without the occasional coincidence.

Today I went to an art show. There were hundreds of artists there and I was quite taken with some of their work. One piece in particular drew me in.  It is called The World As An Object For Aesthetic Contemplation by Martin Budny, a flight attendant, artist and actor.

The coincidence? Well, when I returned home to write the introduction to today’s poem I realized that it was by a flight attendant. Our poet this Sunday, Lori Jakiela, worked for Delta Air Lines for six years. She now teaches in the writing programs at The University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and Chatham University.

I am poorly equipped to define art but it seems to me that flight attendants are well positioned to be the makers of it. Traveling on a regular basis, they have a chance to see  the world. Serving hundreds of people every day from different cultures, different economic classes, genders, age and every other attribute that contributes to making individuals unique, they are positioned to observe and appreciate the human condition. The flight attendant so inclined, has all the subject matter they need for art.

Today’s poem is about unadulterated joy. Using her experience as a flight attendant, Jakiela focuses us on how we often miss the joy that life has to offer. I wish we could all be as happy as the lady in 38C.


The Lady in 38 C
gets confused. She thinks I’m her nurse.
“Nurse!” she yells. “My finger!”
So I bring her a band-aid
and put it on even though she’s fine.
“Oh thank you nurse!” she yells.
“You’re a good one.”
She winks and smiles and the woman next to her
glares into her computer.
I think the old lady’s charming.
She’s 86, still pretty. Her eyes are blue.
Her hair is a cloud.
She looks exactly like what’s outside.
She’s the only air in this cabin, the only light.
“Nurse!” she yells, and I look back
over the sad heads, eggs in a carton,
faces pressed against
the mite-ridden blankets
and pillows they fought for,
and there she is, beaming.
“Nurse,” she says. “Where are we?”
I take her hand
and look out the window.
I scratch my head, smile
and say, “Somewhere
over Idunno.”
She’s the only passenger
who’s ever gotten that joke.
Up here, nearly everyone is miserable.
I count on small joys to get by.
The woman in 38C says, “Oh, Nurse!”
and the woman next to her
who probably thinks we’re somewhere
over Idaho, that wonderland of Hemingway
and golden potatoes,
rolls her eyes and bangs the computer keys
until the seatbelt sign goes on
and the captain says,
“We’ll be experiencing weather.”
which is what people say
instead of scary things like storm and turbulence
and pretty soon the plane is bouncing
and the woman with the computer
grips her armrest
while the old lady throws her arms up
like she’s on a roller coaster and yells,
“They should charge extra for this!”

  • BarbaraColorado

    Love, love, love the poem! I want to be her – not later, when I’m 86, but NOW!

  • Ruann Weidemann

    I truly loved this poem!

    Especially where the poet compares the old lady to “what’s outside.”

    ‘”Her hair is a cloud.” [laughs]


    Thanks Janice.

  • Valerie

    It’s all in how you look at things. Flying doesn’t have to be miserable … it’s those who chose to be miserable that make it miserable. When you travel a lot, you have to learn how to find the “air” in the air. Lovely, thank you!

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

    This poem really resonated for me. In 2001, my husband and I were dispatched to Spain to retrieve Nona, his 91 year old grandmother who had broken her hip while on “vacation” there. (Someone actually sold travel insurance to this woman, thank God). A month long hospitalization had taken a toll on her mental status and she was suffering from diarrhea that was only semi under control. (But, her doc gave her permission to travel).  The travel insurance company paid for two first class tickets so we could get her home.  I was thrilled to be able to hide back in economy (possibly in seat 38C) while my husband, a physician, sat with her in first class.  Although she was well traveled, Nona probably had never been a first class flier before. For my husband, the flight was a nightmare (picture him having to change her diaper in an airplane bathroom), but Nona had the time of her life.