In grainy black and white, you pose
on the wing of a plane. A flyboy,
they promised free lessons. You
saw an easy sling shot ride
out of that four corner town, thought
high in the sky it would all fall away,
the father who played but never won,
the mother who grieved the other son.
“Free.” they said. Unless the world warred –
then, of course, there would be hell to pay.
But you don’t know that, standing there on the wing
of a plane. Don’t know about hell’s pay.
You don’t know about the Water Beast,
the carrier deck long as a city block, don’t know
how you’ll dispatch planes, signal, scream – “More loft!
More loft!” then lurch, watch as the prow plows
under one more innocent flyboy. You don’t know
how torpedoes aim where you sleep, don’t know the scream,
Kamikazes, 12 o’clock! 3 o’clock! – how they fall, flame.
Don’t yet know the stench of charred mates. That’s why you still smile.
Standing there, preserved in black and white, you don’t know –
You will live. Live to father four. Never care for boats. Keep flying.
When you grow too old to fly, you will still climb up, onto that wing,
settle in the cockpit, drive in and out, of your hollow, hallowed hangar.
In the next life, you promised, you’d come back as a bird.
Do that. And fly boy. Fly
© Colette Volkema DeNooyer, 2008
For Russell Harry Volkema, my father, who, during WWII, as a dispatcher on the U.S.S. Essex was the first to begin dispatching planes off the carrier deck at an angle, in order to give pilots a better chance to survive takeoff and for which, at the age of 80 , on January 31, 2000, he was given a Navy medal of honor.