The Poem of the Month for June 2021 is “Air Strike” by Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein, best known for his writings about ballet, was a low-ranking Army enlisted man during World War II. Given his social prominence, he could have been awarded a higher rank but chose to experience the Army at its most basic level. This poem describes his reaction when he saw the Air Force’s bombers flying overhead when they helped allied forces break through the German lines at St. Lo, France, four weeks after the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. It appears in Rhymes of a pfc (David Godine, 1981), his wonderful collection of poems about his time in the Army in World War II.
This was the morning to recall: steep azure, stunning, diamond-bright,
An empty cloudless bell-clear shell, stupendous scale for such a sight.
We groundlings held our bivouac field, the ordinary work in hand,
Protected by a pasture plot, busy and far from battle-land.
Abruptly up from out our west, heralded by a droning hive,
Swept over level throbbing air, the stinging squadrons, death alive.
Hand upon hip, in proud amaze, soldiers dropped hatchet, nail and saw;
Four thousand planes roared overhead. We all were speechless in our awe
Of Yaveh, Thunderer, Battle God, who in His just, avenging wrath
Hath lent us much materiel bigger and better than Jerry hath.
This mathematic vision showed four thousand planes complete with crew,
Servant mechanics back at base, whilst over oceans, not a few
Tickers who’d tooled, sailors who’d shipped, these marvels matchless oversea,
Conceive the method and the mind controlling such dread formulae.
To many, it meant money spent; to others, some vague Bad or Good,
Trying to render in tight terms the vast logistics as we could.
An amateur, I multiplied my balance of equivalents,
How I would handle so much cash, or bad, or good, and how events
Always propel hectic techniques to end up in the hands of those
Whoever manfully insist on any program save repose.
In any case, four thousand planes flew overhead and we were there.
That night we listened for the news. It was not mentioned on the air,
But at the morrow’s trumpet-sun, the big guns sounded strong and slow.
We’d cracked their salient, and we were some kilometers past St. Lo.