Watching People in Airports


Jessica Hagy’s Observations of the Human Condition

by Ric Kasini Kadour

When sociologists do it, they call it naturalistic observation, but most of the time we call it people watching. You’ve probably done it. On the bus, on your way to work, book forgotten on your bedstand, you lift your head and let your gaze loose across the crowded car. It lands. Perhaps you find the person attractive. Perhaps you are curious about their piercings. Perhaps the elderly lady reminds you of your grandmother’s here-in-line-for-security-by-jessica-hagyneighbour. Then, it happens. You imagine where they are going, from where they came, what they ate for breakfast, what they look like naked. You begin to feel for them: the amorous joy of someone in love; the stinging loneliness of someone who looks, to you, not quite right with the world. If you are a writer by nature, entire narratives begin to take shape. You imagine the teenager as a girl in kindergarten, her indifferent parents, the secrets she writes on notebook paper and hides in her locker at school. Maybe you match-make and start to wonder what the child of the man standing by the back door and the woman seated behind the driver would look like. Before long, the subject of your watching moves on, gone forever in the pool of humanity that swirls around us.

If there was an annual competition for people watching, Jessica Hagy would have won it. Her collection of sixty-two poems is the result of her being stuck at JFK International Airport during a Nor’Easter in 2012, two weeks after Hurricane Sandy. Hagy turned the experience into a beautiful book of sixty-two poems. Each poem bears the title of a subject: The Socialite, The Unpaid Intern, The Business Traveler. Hagy treats her subject with deep perception and great empathy. The Fourteen-Year-Old begins, “overnight: this happened / boom blossom / possessing an Excalibur / she has no clue how to wield” The poem goes on to observe,”her body has new and terrible uses for all the strangers / who think they own every cell of her”. Hagy embeds the archetype of her subject in verse that also attributes it with great complexity. Not all of Hagy’s subjects are the obvious characters one would find trapped at an airport in a hurricane: The Tooth Fairy, The Murderer, The Martyr. The Trophy Wife describes a woman, “bitch has her papers from a respected institution / her bark, high-pitched and patrician”. The Brawler begins “this poison is delicious / so smooth and velvety as it sips down my throat”.

This openness to the human condition, Hagy’s willingness to take the observation where ever it wants to go, makes Here In Line For Security a remarkable read, and an even more remarkable study of contemporary life.



The Fourteen-Year-Old

overnight: this happened

boom blossom
possessing an Excalibur
she has no clue how to wield

horns: assaulting insulting
whistles: hissing accusing debasing

necks began to snap at her

like rabid wolves half-starved
she a pink soft silky slab
of inhuman, aromatic flesh

her body has new and terrible uses for all the strangers
who think they own every cell of her

terrified nullified vilified
this is her ubiquity

father sneers at all young men

and is now wary of his peers

mother sees how swiftly time runs

in one direction
and recalls the horror of that time