Above the lines you can see the scars etched
into the beauty’s countenance, crisscrossing
ones old and new, some smeared with spoiled
face powder trying to cover the pocks
and failures of old men’s vanity.
But that’s only if you regard them with some
romantic aesthetic you lose all too quickly
as you are assailed by the scream of
the engine in your lap, its heat of no use
in the freezing air and wind in your face,
redolent of burnt petrol and cast-off castor oil.
You dare not wax so poetic that you stare
at billowing, sun-painted clouds as if
they were masterpieces like great Cathedrals,
or as the marble imaginings filling them,
wrought by some absent God’s immortal tools.
No, above the lines’ beauty and cleanliness
are mere primer for a blank canvas, one yet
to be spattered with the black and red blooms
of Archie shells, the yellow tracings of bullets
as they pierce your wings, fuselage, or someone’s son.
You chance a glimpse of the slanting or spiral
chiaroscuro of a funeral pyre in descent,
in a hurry to bury another boy in the box
within in which he tried to stay above all the mud
And blood below, only to be lost between the lines.
Inspired by a picture and conversation shared with my friend, the novelist Julia Robb. These days, I feel so much like one of those young men of the Lafayette Escadrille or the Royal Flying Corps in late 1916/early 1917. I see little beauty in what I’m doing here anymore and feel my time at this is growing as short as my next climb into the cockpit of this desk.