Poetry: The Black Fighter Pilot | clivejames.com
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The Black Fighter Pilot

No sudden death was quite as quick as when
The enemy came from the front dead straight,
The closing speed six hundred plus, and then
In just one second, from the wings and snout
He showered the shells that scooped your flight deck out
And left an aimless wreck. For just a few
Minutes the bomber might fly on, the waist
And turret gunners find enough control
To turn for England. Like unpacked smoke-puffs
Lone parachutes continued to appear
For miles on end, but let’s not kid ourselves
About the flight crew: they were history,
And the other kids knew that, just hanging there.
Imagine it, that moment of mad violence,
And then the slow admission of junk status
As the plane turned over and went down.No breath
Heard on the intercom except your own:
Where are you? Nose attack. You are alone.
So how come, then, the Jerries didn’t win?
Because they had the planes, but not the people.
Our fighters cut theirs down at such a rate
Luftwaffe pilots rated ace if they
Could land. Forget about an actual fight.
Only old hands could do the nose attack.
The younger ones were heading for the wall
Their first trip out. The Mustangs ate them up:
The Mustangs and the Thunderbolts. P-47s
Could go downhill like dump-trucks and come back
Uphill like soaring seagulls. An all black
Squadron of Mustangs never lost a case.
Just follow me, madame. The perfect escort.
Why isn’t that more well-known? Don’t ask me,
Go ask the President, if he’s at home.
He might say, in that calm voice, that time tells;
And now there’d be a film by Howard Hawks
With a young Will Smith or Denzel Washington;
And yes, a postage stamp, the Mustang proud
As Punch with bubble cockpit high and tight;
And, climbing into it like the Black Prince,
A black pilot. Would that much be all right?
What can we do to make things come out well
That’s better than just saying “War is Hell”?

Standpoint, October 2011