“Touring the B-17 Bomber at the Palm Springs Air Museum” by Alexandra Umlas

Alexandra Umlas


a golden shovel after Randall Jarrell

They climb a slender ladder. From
stitched-together metal, my
daughters disappear into the plane, a mother’s
intuition wanting them to sleep
longer in their not knowing. I
want to conceal how people fell
from the sky, how bombs glided into
their targets, how it happened in the
daylight, so everything hit. This State,

the state of being and of war. And
when they go further into the fortress, I
can no longer hear their hunched
tunneling. No oxygen masks needed in
this controlled air museum; its
planes are still. We are in the belly
of the third hanger, learning till
we are sick with statistics. My
eyes want to look away, wet
with sadness, with the soft fur
of faces that burned or froze.

My girls sit in the jump seats. Six
feet from ground, not miles
like the eight to ten men from
the past who flew this earth
in these planes, men loosed
into war, one man who crawled from
somewhere in this turret, from its
curved surface, with the dream
of getting home, with the want of
oxygen, and warmth and life,

someone’s son, someone’s, I
know this from Jarrell, how a man woke
into death. How am I to
explain these images of black
smoke trailing, or the definition of flak
or anti-anything? My girls and
their enthusiastic guide pause at the
plane’s plexiglass womb. Its nightmare
nested only the smallest fighters.

A single man curled knee to chin. When
my children emerge intact, I
hear the guide state how many died
but later, the girls tell me they
loved the plane, over washed
hair and brushed teeth, tell me
how some men were thrown out
because of their wounds, of
how their friends deployed the
parachutes, about the turret
and its smallness, tell me with
smiles, still unaware of what remains: a
poem, a person, a mess, a hose.

from Poets Respond
November 28, 2017


Alexandra Umlas: “This weekend we toured a B-17 bomber at the Palm Springs Air Museum. My children took the tour with a guide, who walked them through the plane. I waited outside, staring at the Ball Turret of the plane. The idea of war has been in the news a lot lately, but the idea of war is different than the reality of war. I never paid too much attention to the poem ‘The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner’ (the entirety of the poem makes up the last word in each line) until today, when confronted with an actual Ball Turret and imagining a real person curled up inside. I hope my kids never know the reality of war. I hope war stays only as an idea—something abstract—part of our history. This is my attempt at a “Golden Shovel” poem that digs even though it doesn’t want to dig and tries to remember even the things I don’t want to remember.” (web)

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