Bombers’ Moon, Ashland Overpass
Into the western midnight beyond
runway's end, over tidal flats stippled
like the backs of sea creatures beached
in frost-edged shallows,
Captain Phelps from Waco,
top locomotive killer in the Thirteenth,
throttled forward, lifted, banked,
climbed for the hunt
in the northern mountains
below the Yalu.
At full, the moon burnished our soot-colored wings.
We arched over ridge spines, dived,
flew under cables the enemy strung across the valley
to shear our wings into black metal butterflies.
Rail tracks etched against snow
on the valley floor pointed us
to the tunnel opening ahead of a train.
Our flares colored the clouds lemon yellow.
The engine driver overcame his astonishment
at being nominated next to die, shoved
the throttle forward, accelerated to the portal.
We intercepted, tracers stitching tenderly for the boiler.
The train scuttled beneath our figure eights.
Our bullets rattled above engine noise,
made the firebox blossom into coralline poppies.
Freight cars jumbled against the portal.
We sheered away to dodge fragments,
avoid the mountain face; turned back
from the valley south of Cho'san, landed
in violet light, craftsmen come home
from their work in the hills.
Schooldays at three, the westbound Burlington
Zephyr snaked through turnouts and signal blocks
at LaSalle Street Station. When class let out
we ran down to the Ashland overpass
to watch dreaming flash by.
The drum rolls of its diesels
recruited Georgie, Ambrose, Dancer,
Ziggy, and me; called us to ride
on fluted stainless to the arching blue
West of Saturday matinees.
Then ten years:
Georgie, Platoon Sergeant, 27th
Infantry, bracketed by mortar rounds,
scooping out sand to shelter belly-down
on the beach at Tinian, heard sniper fire
nicker through sugar cane; watched defeated
Japanese wade out to the coral reefs,
to clasp and blow grenades against their chests.
Georgie, tough enough to survive, living
on the duller edge of everyday,
remembering too well, searches for himself
in bottles. We last heard of him, rootless,
somewhere in Wisconsin - maybe Appleton.
Ambrose, tall, lithe, good-looking, arrogant,
became what he always dreamed - pilot of
a B-17 out of Cambridgeshire.
Friends in his squadron saw black shards of metal
blossom from his plane, counted only four
parachutes out of ten slewing down from
twenty-eight thousand feet over Schweinfurt.
Dancer did his routine, drummed fingers modestly
against his chest as he told the draft board
about the cough that would not go away.
He parlayed X-rays of his lungs into
deferment from the fighting, but not
out of soldiering for the Syndicate.
He had to pass up his curtain calls.
After a war over beer territories
north of the River, he finished at Cook County
on a guttered metal slab, rinse fluid
from the surgery pooled on tiles at the drain.
Ziggy - fat Ziggy the Joker, the one
I could beat in running races - landed
with the second wave on Omaha Beach.
A different Ziggy came back, angry, loud,
wiping tiny drops of sweat from his lip.
Behind his eyes, something shuttered
deflected us from talk about pink froth
he waded through at water's edge.
For twenty months a surplus shavetail, I sifted
through dusty bomber bases in Kansas
and Nebraska, trying to join a group
of 29s shipping out to the Pacific.
Once I led a detail to the Mojave
for firing practice on tow target sleeves.
On the day Franklin Roosevelt died,
they halted firing for a couple minutes.
Around our gun-pit we had counted
twenty-seven kinds of desert flowers.