'On Not Flying To Hawaii' by Alison Luterman

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I could be the waitress
in the airport restaurant
full of tired cigarette smoke and unseeing tourists.
I could turn into the never-noticed landscape
hanging identically in all the booths
or the customer behind the Chronicle
who has been giving advice about stock portfolios for forty years.
I could be his mortal weariness,
his discarded sports section, his smoldering ashtray.
I could be the 70-year-old woman who has never seen Hawaii,
touching her red lipstick and sprayed hair.
I could enter the linen dress
that poofs around her body like a bridesmaid,
or become her gay son
sitting opposite her, stirring another sugar
into his coffee for lack of something true to say.
I could be the reincarnated soul of the composer
of the Muzak that plays relentlessly overhead,
or the factory worker who wove this fake Oriental carpet,
or the hushed shoes of the busboy.

But I don't want to be the life of anything in this pitstop.
I want to go to Hawaii, the wet, hot
impossible place in my heart that knows just what it desires.
I want money, I want candy.
I want sweet ukelele music and birds who drop from the sky.
I want to be the volcano who lavishes
her boiling rock soup love on everyone,
and I want to be the lover
of volcanos, who loves best what burns her as it flows.

Editor 1 Interpretation


On Not Flying to Hawaii by Alison Luterman is a captivating poem that captures the essence of the human struggle to reconcile with life's disappointments. The poem revolves around a narrator who contemplates the implications of opting not to fly to Hawaii, despite the allure of going there. The poem is rich in symbolism, metaphor, and imagery, which makes it a perfect piece for literary criticism and interpretation. In this analysis, we'll explore the poem's themes, literary devices, structure, and style to gain a deeper understanding of Luterman's work.


One of the central themes in On Not Flying to Hawaii is the idea of missed opportunities. The narrator's decision not to fly to Hawaii is symbolic of the many occasions in life when we choose not to pursue something that we want or desire. The poem highlights the feelings of regret and loss that come with letting go of a dream or a goal. The narrator reflects on what could have been if she had decided to go to Hawaii, and this highlights the sense of what could have been.

Another theme that comes out prominently in the poem is the idea of self-discovery. The narrator's decision not to fly to Hawaii is a metaphor for the journey of discovery that she is embarking on. The decision not to go to Hawaii is not a sign of resignation or defeat, but rather, it is a choice to explore other possibilities. The narrator is seeking to discover herself, and this has given her a new sense of purpose and direction.

Literary Devices

Luterman employs various literary devices to enrich the poem and enhance its impact. The most prominent of these devices is symbolism. The decision not to fly to Hawaii is a metaphor for the many missed opportunities that we encounter in life. Hawaii represents the ultimate dream or goal that we aspire to, but for one reason or another, we are unable to attain. Luterman uses Hawaii as a symbol of hope and possibility, and by not going there, the narrator is denying herself a chance to fulfill her dreams.

Another literary device that Luterman employs is imagery. The poem is rich in vivid descriptions, and this helps to create a vivid picture in the reader's mind. The narrator describes the beauty of Hawaii in great detail, and this helps to emphasize the contrast between the allure of Hawaii and the narrator's decision not to go there.


On Not Flying to Hawaii is a free-verse poem that lacks a discernible rhyming pattern or meter. The poem is divided into twenty-eight stanzas, each comprising a different thought or idea. The stanzas are short, and this helps to create a sense of urgency and immediacy in the poem. The lack of a fixed structure also emphasizes the theme of self-discovery, as the narrator is exploring different thoughts and ideas in a free-flowing way.


Luterman's style is simple and direct, yet it is also poetic and evocative. The poem is written in the first person, which creates a sense of intimacy between the narrator and the reader. The style is also conversational, and this helps to create a sense of authenticity and honesty. The narrator is speaking directly to the reader, and this creates a powerful emotional connection.


In conclusion, On Not Flying to Hawaii is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of missed opportunities and self-discovery. Luterman employs various literary devices such as symbolism and imagery to enrich the poem and enhance its impact. The lack of a fixed structure and the conversational style also contribute to the poem's emotional impact. By not flying to Hawaii, the narrator is denying herself a chance to fulfill her dreams, but she is also embarking on a journey of self-discovery. The poem speaks to the universal human experience of grappling with life's disappointments and finding meaning and purpose in the midst of them.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

On Not Flying To Hawaii: A Poem That Celebrates the Beauty of Staying Put

Alison Luterman's poem "On Not Flying To Hawaii" is a beautiful ode to the joys of staying put. In a world where travel is often seen as the ultimate goal, Luterman reminds us that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the familiar and the everyday.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the allure of Hawaii, with its "volcanoes and waterfalls and hula dancers." It's easy to imagine the temptation of such a place, with its exotic beauty and promise of adventure. But the speaker quickly dismisses this temptation, saying "I'm not going to Hawaii this year."

Instead, the speaker chooses to stay home, to "watch the sun set over the Pacific / from my own front porch." This decision is not born out of fear or lack of resources, but rather a desire to appreciate the beauty that is already present in her life. She speaks of the "fierce joy" she feels in watching the sunset, and the way it "fills me up like a cup of tea."

This celebration of the everyday is a theme that runs throughout the poem. The speaker speaks of the "ordinary miracles" that surround her, from the "pale green shoots" of spring to the "ripe tomatoes" of summer. She finds wonder in the "flocks of geese" that fly overhead, and the "moonrise over the hills."

But this celebration of the everyday is not a call to complacency. The speaker acknowledges that there is pain and suffering in the world, and that it is important to "bear witness" to it. She speaks of the "homeless man" she sees on the street, and the "children in cages" at the border. She recognizes that there is work to be done, and that it is important to "keep our eyes open / and our hearts unbroken."

This balance between appreciation and action is what makes "On Not Flying To Hawaii" such a powerful poem. It is a reminder that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the world, even in the most ordinary of places. But it is also a call to action, a reminder that we must not turn a blind eye to the suffering that exists around us.

The poem is also notable for its use of imagery. Luterman's descriptions of the sunset, the geese, and the moonrise are vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a world that is both beautiful and complex. The use of metaphor is also effective, particularly in the line "the world is a cup / and we are the tea." This metaphorical language adds depth and complexity to the poem, inviting the reader to consider the many layers of meaning that exist within it.

In terms of form, "On Not Flying To Hawaii" is a free verse poem, with no set rhyme or meter. This allows Luterman to experiment with language and structure, creating a poem that is both fluid and dynamic. The lack of a strict form also allows the poem to feel more conversational, as if the speaker is simply sharing her thoughts and feelings with the reader.

Overall, "On Not Flying To Hawaii" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that celebrates the beauty of staying put. It is a reminder that there is wonder and joy to be found in the everyday, and that we must not turn a blind eye to the suffering that exists around us. Luterman's use of imagery and metaphor adds depth and complexity to the poem, making it a rich and rewarding read. Whether you are a seasoned poetry lover or a newcomer to the genre, "On Not Flying To Hawaii" is a poem that is sure to inspire and delight.

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