Poems 6

Four Scenes Near the Air Base

 

The Whitewash Mark on the Oak Tree

During the war, Grandpa said, French pilots trained
in single engine fighters. They loved to fly in formation,
low above the trees, to show their skills. He and the
other farmers complained; the stock would bolt, no eggs
from the chickens. The French pilots attacked the local trains;
the railroad track ran north and south along the west edge
of the farm. They practiced attacks from the front and rear,
to prepare for their return to France. One early fall afternoon,

when they attacked on a low northbound run, one aircraft fell out
of formation, its propeller stopped and no place to land
except our field of corn, stalks dried and rippling in the breeze.
It dug a groove two feet deep, Grandpa said. One wheel bounced into
a neighboring farmer’s field. I tried to imagine the scene as I swung
from the large oak tree that had stopped the aircraft’s sliding progress.

 

Turning Final Over the Syrup Kettle

We were seated around the big black kettle, deep in
the maple woods, watching the sap boil down, protected
from the winter wind by three walls of stacked wood,
shoulder high. Fresh snow on the ground. Grandpa rose
from his log, unhooked the ladle from the peg,
dipped it into the boiling sweetness, let it cool, then
sampled it, nodded his head. Almost ready, he said. He handed
the ladle to me, and I tasted richness, inhaled the lovely aroma.

We heard the engine noise, a high whine of turbines;
in the patchy sky above, blocking the early morning light,
the dark shape of an interceptor, returning early
from patrol, dumping fuel to lighten his landing. The
noise faded slowly as the pungent jet fuel vapor
drifted down through the bare trees.

 

In Planting Time

I and my grandfather working in the fields, stakes and string in hand,
laying out the lines to plant the seeds for summer crops: beans,
squash, tomatoes. Grandma in the farm house at the kitchen sink,
washing the breakfast dishes. She raises the window to let the blooming
lilacs’ fragrance in. Many aircraft flying overhead, a national guard unit
at gunnery practice. We hear the sounds of firing runs in the distant north.
Then a new noise, growing louder, louder, until even the earth vibrates.
The sleek jet aircraft passes directly over the farm house, smoke trailing.

At the window Grandma sees it pass over, low and descending, glowing
Like a summer flower fed by air. It disappears behind the tree line.
Then silence. Grandpa looks at me, shakes his head. A moment later
we feel and hear the booom that shakes the ground, a half mile
away. At the kitchen window, Grandma sees, beyond the lilacs, the smoke
rising casually, drifting slowly up, a thin wisp in the still spring air.

 

Buzzing the Farm House

In my single-engine plane, I circle over the farm house,
Diving and swooping, jazzing the engine to let my mother
Know we have arrived. She will meet us at the airfield; one last visit
Before I depart for the war. From the air, the farm looks small,
Smaller than I imagined it when I worked in the fields.
The maple grove on the north, the rail line and corn fields
On the west, the high line of trees to the east, the barn
And house near the road, the lilac blooms turned to seed.

The land is summer green, but the fields are unworked now,
The livestock sold, the chickens gone. I wonder what Grandpa
Would have thought, to see me orbiting above the land
The family farmed for one hundred years. I make one final turn
To the south, to fly above the cemetery where he and Grandma rest,
Then turn north for one last pass before landing at the field.