Contests : War Poetry Contest : Past Winners : 2006 : Jeff Streeby
LEROI "ACE" EVANS
Dawn drew us,
that bloodthirsty bitch
and the gory goddess Glory, her sister-witch,
and like moths, flame-fascinated, which,
forgetful of self and life and breath,
fly into beauty, that place of fiery death,
we flew on.
Her rose flush
sobered and roused us
and in the first fiery golden glare and gush of sunrise
our fair machines housed us light as gods.
Heaven espoused us
And on twin sun-spangled wings, we rose up wary and wise,
hunting the clatter and rough crush of battle,
forgetful of self and life and breath,
into the bright blue place of death.
Day after day I touched the Vickers trigger of my SE 5A,
year after year let fly the flashing lethal fountain of lead spray from the Lewis gun,
did what had to be done,
the work of war,
won what had to be won,
and gained glory by it, duty's glittering whore.
Staring savage and grim-eyed over my gunsights,
I saw my foemen,
their faces frantic in flames,
faces furious and afraid,
framed between planes of blazing canvas;
fliers falling, falling in fire
like moths falling maimed and immolated,
falling beautiful as stars through that long sad arc down,
as beautiful as Lucifer's lost host must have looked, falling from grace,
falling, falling into darkness from the high, bright place of sunlight and death,
all hopelessness and anger there
in the last ghastly glare of dying eyes
and flame and pain and smoke in the last breath.
And each and each and each imperfect infant Phoenix failed to rise
immortal and golden from the ashes to soar the skies again.
An Ace, I, at the Armistice—
twelve Albatross D II's,
eighteen Fokker D VII's,
seven LVG C's,
four Pfalz D III's,
Fifty-nine victories of several sorts,
one an Austro-Hungarian Ace in a Hansa-Brandenburg DI
outpaced in the dive, a Baron, wounded,
forced down behind our lines and captured alive.
At the end, I owned war honors and renown—
the MC with two bars,
the DSO with bar,
and the Victoria Cross.
It was a long way to Tipperary.
As soon as the war started,
I had quit the ranch and rode up to Alberta
to join the Canadian Mounted Rifles.
Eventually, though I had no FAI ticket,
I was seconded to the suicide club in 1916
and transferred into the Royal Flying Corps a Captain.
After the War, I came back to the States,
bought a surplus Jenny for $200
and barnstormed the country.
I came home to Sunday Creek for a visit at last
to show off my medals and my skills
and to see who else had got out of it alive.
Giving rides to home town folks for $1.00 apiece,
I went down in flames when a fuel line burst.
My passenger, my uncle Billy Wade the ranchman, did not survive.
I am Icarus.
I have seen dawn,
that deadly siren out of whom the day springs.
I know the sky's labyrinthine ways.
These wings I wear were not my father's wings.
These are silk, they are not wax, they came to me from kings,
and they name me "Hero" until the end of days.
This poem won an Honorable Mention in the 2006 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. Author Jeff Streeby received a $75 award. Copyright is reserved to the author.
About Jeff Streeby
Jeff Streeby grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, an historic terminal market for Western beef, and worked for Waitt Cattle Company while he attended Morningside College. During the early 1970s he competed in amateur rodeo as a bull rider, bareback rider, and saddle-bronc rider without spectacular results. Later, he went to Minnesota and Florida where he worked as a groom and stableman for dressage and A-Circuit hunter-jumper trainers. He has worked on the Thoroughbred race-tracks of Nebraska and Montana as both a groom and an assistant trainer.
He earned a teaching credential in English at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1983. He has also earned graduate credit there, and at the University of Wyoming, Antioch University, the University of Texas at El Paso, at Montana State and at the University of California, Riverside.
After several years of teaching at Andress High School and Radford Academy in El Paso, Texas, working a few odd seasonal works on a couple of ranches down by Sierra Blanca, and boarding horses at his little New Mexico place, Jeff and his family then moved to Great Falls, Montana, where he taught English at Great Falls High School. Currently, Jeff is teaching English at Perris High School in Perris, California, and he is a candidate for the Master of Fine Arts degree in Poetry at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire.
His work has appeared in Western Horseman magazine, Countryline magazine, Cowboy Gazette magazine, and Rope Burns magazine. His long work-in-progress, Sunday Creek, is a serial feature at the Bar-D website.
His work has been included in three anthologies: The Big Roundup (AWA Book of the Year, 2002 and winner of the Buck Ramsey Award), Cowboy Poetry: The Reunion (Gibbs Smith publishers), and 200 Poets of the People (Australia). He has been a featured guest on "Love of the West", an Oklahoma-based PBS series. He is a member of Western Writers of America. He is a registered songwriter with BMI. He performs at cowboy poetry gatherings around the US and in Canada.
The character of LeRoi "Ace" Evans is based on the capsule biographies of several World War I Fighter Aces, especially Captain William Carpenter Lambert, an American who flew for the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force and on Edward Corringham "Mick" Mannock, a British Ace killed in action July 26, 1918, near Lestrem, France. The "Austro-Hungarian Ace" is based on Godwin Brumowski and on the Prussian Ace Joachim von Bertrab. Von Bertrab was shot down by Mannock August 12, 1917. The "FAI ticket" was the colloquial term for the certificate issued by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).