Half his life he parachuted
from open cockpits in swamp fog,
and the other madly scouted
for where forced landings might work.
It was a tic, mind painting crashes
as he flew (knowing pilots lived
only an average 900 hours aloft),
while at the same time eagle-eyeing
the stagnant autumn of the fields,
the village life which, as a farm boy,
he knew from the soil up,
to invisible rivers and culverts of air.
Lost, he’d buzz a country to see
what language the store signs spoke,
then reclimb the stairs of flight
to where he loved being
a hermit in a wooden cabin in the clouds.
He always carried a Minnesota boyhood
with him: that frozen winter quiet
so raw he felt a trespasser: the ocean
glaring white and inhuman far below
with enormous cakes of jammed ice,
as he steered alone by a compass
reflected in a lady’s compact mirror.
He figured plane and heart would never quit
(“How can a whirlwind stall?”),
never feared the wind streaming
at tornado speed over fuselage and wing,
nor the silk he would blossom
to the ground in so often,
as if rehearsing a final cocoon.
Above all, there was no mystery
to life’s steepest thrill:
the stick vibrant in his hand,
a quart of stagger in the engine,
death stowed away in every bolt and copper wire,
all of existence reaching from one horizon
to the next: spangled, perilous,
interflowing, dumb: in the same instant
supreme and completely without value,
hung on nothing, a few valves and a strut.