a kiss is just a kiss, or is it?


When is a kiss more than just a kiss?

Read for yourself.




by Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. 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
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching —
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after — if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now — you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

~ from A Constellation of Kisses, edited by Diane Lockward (Terrapin Books, 2019)


This poem made me sigh, smile, and swoon.

Such a kiss! Sounds like the stuff of movies, doesn’t it?

Airport kisses, whether heartfelt hellos or tearful goodbyes, are in a category all their own. Whenever I see people kissing at an airport, I wonder how long it’s been since they last saw each other, or how long it’ll be before they see each other again.

I may be slightly partial, but I think kisses at the Daniel K. Inouye (Honolulu) International Airport are the best — because they often come with flower lei. Doesn’t matter whether you’re coming or going, a lei with a kiss is a beautiful expression of aloha, something I grew up with and took for granted until I moved to the mainland.

To me the airport was a magical place  — the fragrance of plumeria stirred my wanderlust, and it was the best place for people watching. During my teens, my friends and I frequented the airport — sometimes it was just a cool place to hang out and dream about taking trips to faraway places. Other times, it was the frenzied excitement of greeting rock stars passing through for arena concerts.

In fact, presenting lei to our favorite musicians gave us the perfect “excuse” to kiss them! 😀 Count among my most memorable airport lei kisses: Felix Cavaliere (Rascals), David Crosby (Byrds), Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), Sonny Bono, Peter Tork (Monkees), and the strangest one of all: Jim Morrison of the Doors.


Jim Morrison in Hawai’i (1968)


Usually we made our own lei, using whatever backyard flowers were in season. But when the Doors were scheduled to leave Honolulu in the summer of 1968, my friends and I made necklaces from watermelon seeds (this was when everyone wore beads of some sort).

We went to the departure gate, but not a Door in sight. We were very disappointed and started to walk away when we heard a woman’s voice over the PA system: “James Morrison, paging James Morrison, to the Information Desk, please.”

Could it be?

We flew to the Information Desk. Almost there, we spotted him. Dark brown leather pants, flowing white button down shirt, silver stamped concho belt. Sultry, mysterious, expressionless. Jim Morrison wasn’t the kind of star one ran up to, screaming like a maniac. After all, this was a man with a cosmic aura.

The very picture of restraint, we approached cautiously. With trembling hands and a pounding heart, I placed my watermelon seed necklace around his neck and gave him a very quick peck on the cheek.

He didn’t say a word. He didn’t gaze at me as if I was “the first sunrise seen from the Earth.” But I had kissed the Lizard King and time stood still. This close encounter with my idol seared itself forever in my memory.

But back to Ellen Bass’s wonderful poem.

If only we could all be as open and spontaneous as the couple she describes, whose passionate, public kiss stopped everyone in their tracks. As others look on with disbelief, a little envy and longing, they can’t help but share in the couple’s joy and love.

Bass’s poem inspires us to be fearless about living in the moment and expressing our feelings — especially when they are positive and capable of uplifting others.

Essential truth: human beings live to love and be loved. We can never have enough love. Let’s not be so stingy about showing it. Life’s too short to hold back.

Do take a look at A Constellation of Kisses, where you’ll find all manner of smooch-worthy poems. You’ll be reminded of your own memorable kisses, with lots of chances to consider the kiss in different emotional contexts, good and bad.

Before you slip into unconsciousness
I’d like to have another kiss
Another flashing chance at bliss
Another kiss, another kiss

~ Jim Morrison (The Crystal Ship, 1967)

What’s your most memorable airport kiss?



edited by Diane Lockward
Terrapin Books, 2019
Poetry Anthology, 202 pp.
*Contains 100+ poems by some of our finest contemporary poets



The lovely and talented Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting the Roundup today. Be sure to stop by to check out the full menu of delectable poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!

Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

42 thoughts on “a kiss is just a kiss, or is it?

  1. Oh, you…..you’ve done it again. You’ve created this entire world in one post. Just lovely. I enjoyed the kiss in the poem and then you making a lei and the final lyrics. What a nice journey this was from my chair under the Christmas tree lights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was indeed a fabulous moment — gives me hope that no matter how busy or distracted people may be, they will make time and root for love. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Ashley. The watermelon seed lei was pretty crude and primitive, not fancy at all. I forgot whose idea it was to boil the seeds till they were soft enough to string together. We thought they were cool at the time . . .


  2. You kissed Jim Morrison!! This explains a lot about you, Jama. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Ellen’s poem also appears in the anthology I’ve been reading this week: Healing the Divide Poems of Kindness and Connection edited by James Crews. I will definitely check out the kiss anthology! Thank you! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the poem, Jama, “as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth”, but loved your own story even more. Wow! You and your friends hung out at the airport & you found and kissed Jim Morrison! That is fabulous! I don’t have many memories of kisses, but one when I returned from a sad trip, & there was my husband waiting. I was so happy to be back home with him. Thanks for the anthology sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing that memory, Linda. It must have been the best feeling to see his familiar self waiting for you there. You were truly home.

      We had seen the Doors in concert maybe a night or two before. It was definitely surreal to see Jim standing right in front of me, and sad to think he would be dead just 3 years later.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They say everyone has at least one novel inside of them. Probably my memories of the fan club I belonged to — “Club of Mods” would be the basis of mine. 🙂


  4. Jama! What a great poem, but also what a great story! I loved everything about this post. And you’re right – life is too short to hold back. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this poem! Of course, it makes me weep. Have you shared it on your blog before? I read it somewhere, maybe Poem A Day.

    What a fun airport story too, seeing all those famous celebs & kissing Jim Morrison himself–wow!

    I don’t have an airport kiss story, but I love both the opening and especially the closing airport scene in Love Actually which I just re-watched recently, perfectly set to the Beach Boys “God Only Knows.” Makes me weep every time it is to true & moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I hadn’t shared this poem before today. It’s been around awhile, so you probably saw it at Poem a Day or elsewhere.

      I thought about “Love, Actually,” too when I first read the poem. That movie has the best kisses, at the airport and other places. Jamie and Aurelia’s kiss was actually specially choreographed! The ending of the movie is the best — when Sam runs through the airport after Joanna, and she kisses him on the cheek, and also when Natalie in her bright red coat jumps on Hugh Grant. 🙂


  6. Jim Morrison, what a trip! you should have kissed him and sang, “Hello, I love you…” I don’t have an airport kiss, but I have an ocean liner kiss! In 1960, after descending the gangplank of the Christopher Columbus ship, I got such a welcome kiss on both cheeks from 2 uncles I had never met! Now, that’s Italian!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Double cheek kisses — what a fine welcome, Joanne! Love how demonstrative Italians are. 🙂

      Wish I had the presence of mind with Jim Morrison — I think I was in shock just seeing him!


  7. That’s a lovely poem! With all this kissing, I guess I have to go find “Love, Actually,” which I have never seen. I don;t have an airport kiss story, but I remember meeting my husband at the airport long ago when he returned from his first business trip abroad, Just seeing his smile again made me so happy. These days we usually travel together!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so good to see a familiar face at the airport — I like the excitement and anticipation of waiting at the gate for the deplaned passengers to come walking out. 🙂

      And yes, you need to see “Love, Actually” — Colin Firth’s in it, and Hugh Grant’s hair is exceptionally good. 🙂


    I … just… I mean, also Peter Tork, but JIM MORRISON!?
    You sly kitty, you never even HINTED your lips had landed so outrageously!!
    I have no memorable airport kisses but now will make a point of creating some!!
    Love the poem, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jama, you’re making me swoon over the warmth of that poem that speaks of intense love. Your own story brings back memories of me seeing the doors up close at a college mixer. My firl’s college in Mass. was transported to Brown for a dance where the Doors were the band. Story #2: at NCTE Cinventuon one year, the president who was Hawaiian walked i. With 50 freshly-made leis. I received one and never forgot that gesture of kindness. Your writing of your own memory was lovely. Many thanks.


  9. I swooned all the way through your post–from that first airport kiss to your story of Jim Morrison. Oh my. My favorite airport memory is more of a hug than a kiss–greeting my daughter when she returned from her semester in England. I’m not sure who was more glad to see each other, but we did make a few of the onlookers smile!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved hearing Tracy K. Smith read this on The Slowdown (the only podcast I can seem to keep up with…sort of…because this was the 12/4 episode listened to on 12/11).

    I love the sight of my hubby waiting for me, just past security, at the airport. That’s my first moment of HOME after being away. And then, of course, the kiss! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Club of Mods” what a great title that would make… Such a swooning, rich post Jama, I ate it all up and then some… I can’t remember an airport kiss but do have a great story when my husband and I were both traveling to Vienna but on separate airlines, his connections without any hiccups and mine with many. I was very happy to finally reunite with him in the Vienna airport and I’m sure there was a sweet embrace with a kiss… thanks, xo! p.s. love the pic of Jim Morrison too!


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