Flash in the Pan

by Walter Schwim
Mosaic Musings
Third Place, August 2013
Judged by Robert Sward

In wartime, lights in the night usually signify something bad is about to happen – somewhere!

Breaking the stillness; a bump in the night!
Is that the start of an Eighty-one’s flight?
Payload of chaos to no one knows where
till H.E. and shrapnel light up the air.

Bursting in splendour, bright star in the sky,
Icarus riding a thousand foot high.
Just for a minute she dazzles the eyes
then swinging in circles, gradually dies.

Lazy green fire-flies, starting out slow
floating through darkness – all in a row.
Lazy green fire-flies rapidly change
to green killer-hornets streaking up-range.

Flickers of lightning! (A storm’s overdue?)
Katyusha’s big daughter, the one-twenty-two
shrieks overhead like a flaming banshee;
the zone near her grounding you’d rather not be.

Lurking in shadow, as patient as Jobe,
mine waits a victim to press on its probe,
renting the soul with a blast out of hell;
a few have survived their story to tell.

Of battle aurora commanding the night,
nothing’s as heinous as one out of sight.
Tiny hot flash of a rifle well aimed
could modestly signal “Your life has been claimed!”

“Eighty-one” – 81mm NATO calibre Medium mortar. The Russian version had an 82mm bore.
“Icarus” – Hand launched parachute flare, also known as “thousand foot flare”.
“Katyusha” – Russian nickname of the older 82mm artillery rocket also known as “Stalin’s Organ”.

It was superseded by the powerful 122mm projectile with a range of up to 30 km.
Other references are to; machine gun tracer fire, mines and booby-traps.

Third prize goes to author of "Flash in the Pan" with its effective use of rhyming couplets (and four-line stanzas) to describe a night-time artillery battle with mortar shells, hand-launched parachute flares (also known as "thousand-foot flare") and Katyusha, AKA "Stalin's Organ."

"Flash in the Pan" is an "action poem" that opens with a frightening exchange of fire, "a bump in the night? / Is that the start of an Eighty-one's flight? / Payload of chaos to no one knows where..."

A scene experienced from a distance before the camera, so to speak, zooms in close on a soldier, a single individual, at least as I read it, "Tiny hot flash of a rifle well-aimed / could modestly signal 'Your life has been claimed.'"

Hats of to a poet who can write about war (possibly in Afghanistan?) and doing so in rhyming iambic pentameter lines, i.e., ten-syllables to the line, two rhyming couplets to each stanza. There's a slight sing-songy quality that actually works for the poem, momentarily lulling the reader into a relative quiet, a dangerous quiet which, moments later, will be shattered by "shrieks overhead like a flaming banshee..."

Ambitious, a poem suggestive of a war veteran author, a poet with battle scars, and I like, too, the appropriate references to "Job" and "Icarus" which, in this context, feel right, that is, they seem to me "earned" and function as something more than decorative elements.

--Robert Sward