by David Roderick
Like the Necessary Evil and Enola Gay,
in a sphere of air that’s calm and mildly cool,
I need some last grip of blue to trigger
my sleep. It was technically flawless,
that mission, as they’d dropped a few
dry-run pumpkins with a bird’s-eye scope.
When I close my eyes under the drone of a fan,
I see planes rattling in the aftermath.
Smoothly soldered rivets saved the men inside.
At a commemoration the captain said,
“I’m proud I started with nothing
and made it work as perfectly as it did.”
Then, when the press persisted, red flashing
his face: “Hey, I sleep clear every night.”
I lie in another state, placeless in the air,
with the sound of occasional sirens
or barking dogs. In a magazine
I read about Predators over Pakistan,
our drone with fifty eyes named Gorgon Stare.
The men at Langley, bombing by remote,
call a person who escapes their fire, who runs
from a car or burning hut, a squirter.
Night is sometimes an acid, sometimes a cure.
In other words, homo fabula: we’re part human,
part story, but our mouths pass on in silence.
I think of the men who brought that silence:
Mr. Harry S. Truman, Captain Paul Tibbets,
who painted his mother’s name on the nose
of the plane.
My dream house circles me.
Peonies thrive in beds I forget to water.
With pillows I lie. A white cotton sheet covers
my chest. I’ve been told to sleep in peace,
where the trees are crowned with plenty
and where birds float through wood-lawn,
broom, and shrubs. Where a found twig
can be golden or mundane. To orchestrate
my sleep I take a pill, and as I fade finally,
at the time of night when the birds believe
they’re leaves, I dream of a path in acacia
season where the air smells lemony
and my whole day seems to rest on the limbs
of the trees. Suddenly, a siren sound.
Wind ripping the valley after a flash…
In Plymouth, spring of ’45, while the Pacific
squadrons trained, my father was born
without cataracts in his eyes—David Roderick,
7 lbs., asleep on his mother’s white gown.
There must have been milk and a huge cloud
of necessity in which they breathed.
In August, before he could talk, neutrons
sheared from a core. I’ve read what they left behind:
shrines’ ashes, and the boy under his desk
who sang all day while his classmates
fell silent, one by one. Two concussions hit
the planes. They roared away from the light
they’d made, the rain.
At night, when I falter
again, and the pill dissolves in my veins,
I think of Langley’s coffee, its infrared eyes.
I think of the Enola Gay parked in the Smithsonian,
where a woman smashed a jar of blood on its wing.
When I signed my mortgage, I also signed
for the peonies and for the shield of my yard’s
tall trees. The birds daub nests of twigs
and human hair. My potting shed makes its
own black sense of heat. Here’s the price I pay
for sleeping: Reapers circling a far-off village,
my drones. To eyes at a distance, a screen
lies always between a failure and a dream.
In other words, homo fabula: we’re part story,
part human, but only if our names are known,
and only if our names, when spoken aloud,
are pronounced correctly, with proper inflection,
as when a mother addresses her son.
Last updated March 30, 2023