His plane was scarcely more than canvas
stretched across board.
Gunned down by a German Fokker onto no-man’s land,
my father crawled under cross-fire to a crater
and sprawled in on the dead.
Only once did he mention the maggots and stench
in a world that slammed up too soon.
That night, between the sizzle of flares,
A Yank pulled him back into a trench and left
before the swapping of names.
Long after I came and went my ways, a friend of his
passed through town, bringing with him an army pal.
Buddy, old buddy, war tales told until what do you know –
true I swear true – they found it was the stranger
who’d rescued my father.
Crying, they embraced – life is so sweet
when death is on leave.
By spring a tumor invaded my father’s brain,
taking him out, along with his wish to float
once just once again with the noiseless clouds.
I’m left replaying those summer nights
we sat on the stoop, bull-bats diving overhead,
cicadas puncturing the quiet.
See, he pointed, there – there! scorpion,
fish, ram and lyre, wheeling across a sky
threatened by hunter and bear.
Hiding my face on his arm, it was hard to connect
myth with the lap I nestled in.
And still no clue
from a heaven seemingly preoccupied.
Tracers that stutter around us
briefly illuminate our lives,
what I forgot to say, what I forgot to give
to the living, bringing me down to a fragment
of you, my derring-do father who flew.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
You can read about Charlotte poet Julie Suk and her new collection, "Lie Down with Me," in my story in Sunday's Observer. Here are three selections from the book, which includes new poems and works from four previous books:
Flying Through World War I
The dead sift through us
without flesh, bone, hair,
or whatever else the stars concoct
for us to touch.
Reaching for the velvet muzzle
of a horse, their hands pass on through
never feeling the warm breath in their palms.
Try catching wind as it runs over wheat
leaving it in shocked repose.
Cruel – to see the one you love
and realize neither tongue nor limb.
Desire is an unattached shadow.
Dashing without thought against the day,
we complain at the slightest wound.
The dead drift by longing for a bruise.
What We Know Is Not What We Feel
which explains why we shiver
when the heedless stars swing by.
says my son,
the lens of his telescope
what I want to believe –
that the earth is not
the last place we touch,
our song whisper rant
not drifting off
without route or shore.
I trace lines but find
no discernible shape for Vesta
Omega Aquarius Cetus
no trail marked
THIS IS THE WAY,
of anger sorrow love
or the foolish wishes
we wept and fought for
not knowing they seldom
come true, hope
the most savage lie.
And there in the lower sky,
no, a night flight
flashing through the trees
and I'm not aboard,
am left, you could say,
like the aura of a burned-out star,
that incorrigible flirt,
still leading me on.