Wings

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block
Second Place, March 2018
Judged by C. Wade Bentley


Hiroyoshi shows a photograph;
She wears western clothes,
dark velvet, I think, to the ankles
suitable for an orchestra or ballroom;
severe jacket, an oversize brass
chrysanthemum at the lapel.

Hiroyoshi and I fly everyday;
my uniform hangs down like his
in the humid press of the jungle.

Overhead, short-waisted bitterns
wheel and fall on the yellow
canebrakes. Any puff of wind
like steam off a kettle.

Fewer pilots each meal,
he writes his sweetheart,
then sets the paper aside.
We will soon fly.

Airborne,
he calls to alert me,

Sakai,

Sakai!

our two fighters surround
an Australian Kittyhawk
in a ripe line of sky.

We fire until the plane
disappears over the soiled
mass of Port Morseby.

In our tent, Hiroyoshi
quietly reads his poem.

High-up seedless clouds are matted, ruffled white
as face powder. Sakai signals “go home.”
A motor is hardly needed to pull my plane toward base;
I set the fuel lever to “Lean,” edge the cockpit open.
Fresh air sweeps around me and I am a flight scarf free
on wind, my only friend goes ahead and I follow
rising on the incense of chrysanthemum ash.


Such lovely movement, in this poem, both in time and space. The symbol of the chrysanthemum, central to Japanese culture, frames the narrative beautifully. And it’s a very nuanced narrative—a perspective on the war that we seldom see—and what a perfect and awful choice to end the poem in ash. --C. Wade Bentley

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