Friday, May 15, 2020

Dogfight in the Sky

After consultation, the elderly squadron leader
knew he would be fighting for survival:
hormone therapy as back-up – thirty-seven sorties
of carefully targeted external beam radiotherapy
homing in on the prostate and surrounding area.
When he leaves the briefing room he’s kitted out,
hands shaking, stomach churning, bladder full.
Morning sunshine floods across the tarmac.
This could be Biggin Hill in 1940. He can’t wait
to take off, destroy the enemy, get the job done.
The other chaps have their own stories: one
couldn’t climb up; another peed in the cockpit.
He remembers those who didn’t come back:
ditched; burnt; “some corner of a foreign field,”
but, with the latest equipment, he should be fine.
He’s in the cockpit, no longer troubled by nerves.
Above him – a spotless blue sky: the face of heaven;
the growl of the engines is music; a slight vibration,
the gun carefully aimed, the button ready to press.
He closes his eyes. It’s all over in minutes.
On the runway a nurse is smiling at him.
He climbs down and smooths his moustache –
relief – the fuselage undamaged – no friendly fire.
He slips off his gown and opens his log book:
mission accomplished – one down, thirty-six to go.
Walking across the tarmac he passes more pilots,
one – no more than a boy, some – hardened veterans.
He recalls that day in July 1940 when he was nearly
shot down – saved for another kind of dogfight;
another kind of enemy; another kind of war.
~ A. K. Shaw

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