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By Constance Urdang

Travel is a vanishing act

Only to those who are left behind.

What the traveler knows

Is that he accompanies himself,

Unwieldy baggage that can’t be checked,

Stolen, or lost, or mistaken.

So one took, past outposts of empire,

“Calmly as if in the British Museum,”

Not only her Victorian skirts,

Starched shirtwaists, and umbrella, but her faith

In the civilizing mission of women,

Her backaches and insomnia, her innocent valor;

Another, friend of witch-doctors,

Living on native chop,

Trading tobacco and hooks for fish and fetishes,

Heralded her astonishing arrival

Under shivering stars

By calling, “It’s only me!” A third,

Intent on savage customs, and to demonstrate

That a woman could travel as easily as a man,

Carried a handkerchief damp with wifely tears

And only once permitted a tribal chieftain

To stroke her long, golden hair.


Constance Urdang, “The Luggage” from Only the World. Copyright � 1983. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: Only the World (1983)

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Poet Bio

Constance Urdang
Poet and novelist Constance Urdang was born in New York, and attended Smith College and the University of Iowa. She worked as an editor for several New York publishers before she returned to school in 1954. In 1955, she married the poet Donald Finkel, and they moved to Mexico, where they lived until 1960. From 1974 until her death, she was on the Washington University faculty, where she taught and coordinated several writing programs. In poems such as “Reflections on History in Missouri,” and “To Live with Landscape,” Urdang uses a free verse form to reflect on the image of America, both past and present. See More By This Poet

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