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The War Against Nature


ISSUE:  Winter 1988
On the roof of my father’s station
During World War Two, a one-room tower
Was built all windows, with phone
And identification manual. Quicker
Than any of the men, I’d see the plane
And know its type, call out its name.

 

Heat ponded that wet atmosphere,
Where tobacco stirred like kelp. Our only
Hope was spotting silhouette in far air.
Why out of the blazing surfaces do we
Desire these forms, these lines sharp-edged
As thought can whet? What privileged

Paradigm lives in first dream,
In the hands’ planing of a balsa arrow,
To float on some humid, afternoon stream
Made by wind, as the thunderheads grow?
Bored with a primordial green,
We wanted experimental designs we’d seen,

The fire it’d have meant had an enemy
Plane appeared. Men returned to the farm,
Volunteers fell away. I watched a bare sky,
Memorizing the chart of possible form:
Messerschmitt, Wellington, workhorse Douglas.
Ideas absolute as the blue emptiness.

James Applewhite

GROB, THAT IMPROBABLE BIRD

for Roger Hivert

Sky looks cloudy. It will lighten,
You say. You give me instructions—
Hard to understand in your French accent—
Degrees of bank through the unfamiliar headset,
Extents of the imperfect circles of turns.
I must watch the amorphous horizon,

Which fades into rain through the canopy,
Spins sidewise about our tightening spiral.
I pull on the stick, keep our flight level.
In the green-blur below, you teach me to see
The numbered highway, our straight runway.
I practice the patterned descent, to free

Myself of you, to come back someday solo.
You make me see, through mists swirled
Muddily, the correct heading, the land’s form,
The city on the horizon—to guess its name.
Not ready to be without you in this world
We must shape, I hesitate as we slow

Before the stall. Have you taught me all
You are permitted? Why can I not see
The landmarks more easily, why is the plastic
Bubble scratched and dirtied? I need clarity
Of vision instantly over the map, an automatic
Adjustment of wing to wind, a gull’s soul.

I need all you’ve never told me, Roger.
I can’t face these misted cities alone,
This powerline-towered, forested terrain.
Below these controlling movements, flying
Still evades my search for its meaning.
May I gather from your years aloft the father

I need? Just as we curve into the pattern
To land, I notice colors of trees, how green
Looks new from down low, how the quarry
Glints its granite, rows of fields are orderly.
The one beside me is my wiser double,
Who changes our plane into a single crystal.

Then in a moment we have landed.
I lose perspective in the check list detail,
In wheeling our bird toward the hanger, plans
For tomorrow, unwritten poems, pain of the ended
Ascent. I’ve lost my soaring self again—
Alone with GROB, fiberglass nightingale.

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