After being an Air Force officer for several years,
after being an enlisted dude for four years, and after
the oddly trainee controlled officer
training school, then flight training,
survival training, combat crew training
and many other experiences
that I have long since forgotten,
I was assigned to the Training Command
as a flight training instructor and commander.
An old instructor of mine was still there,
but he had been away to USC
to get his PhD.
He described command
flight training as a thousand officers
standing knee-deep in chicken shit,
stabbing each other in the back.
I found that description to be
Look both ways in competitive careers.
Mind the gaps and where you step – and check six!
I was 18, standing in a line or queue up of young men like me,
Kennedy was dead and LBJ faced off with a cool-named
guy called Barry Goldwater. It was basic military training
in San Antonio, Texas, near where I would later spend
more than 16 years of my life.
Up ahead stood four medical corpsmen with what looked like
space age weapons called jet gun vaccinators, with small
deadly vials on top and compressed air hoses attached.
Later they learned these were spreading diseases
like hep-c, luckily not into me.
When the corpsman’s aim was bad, a sliced bleeding arm
could send a sad lad to fainting, out cold, falling,
rolling down the nearest bloodstained hill.
We got so many shots
we had to keep a little yellow book as a shot record,
that included things like typhoid and yellow fevers.
And other shit I’d never heard of or wanted.
They call it parenteral since you don’t swallow it
(remember polio vaccine on the sugar cubes?)
so the names are always intra-something like
-muscular, -venous, -cardiac, -articular; and get this,
intracavernous is a jab at the base of a man’s penis to
check and treat for erectile dysfunction.
I’ve had so many shots and jabs, most required for my job,
as military we go to places folks have such diseases.
Now, I’m a walking pharma needing boosters for old men.
I took the second of the new shingles jab last week, next month
they will shoot me with the flu (extra strength for old farts),
a disease I may get anyway — like I did last year.
I saw an advertisement for old people to get whooping cough shots
so as not to infect the young ones, who spend a good bit
of their time infecting the older ones. I think my whooping
immunity was the hosting of the disease itself, as it was with
mumps and measles and who knows what all I got into.
The chicken pox never really left, ergo shingles.
Nowadays, I get my shots at the grocery store along with
bread and milk and maybe some wine. No white clad corpsman,
no jet guns or four shots at a time. I decide. Three different
shingles shots and six weeks with a case of that pox-related
nightmare virus, I sure hope my immune system
fends off any of that painful shit, shingles.
Look both ways and thank science and immunity for better health
at the cost a poke. Mind the gaps,
a compromised immune system invites trouble.
Today’s challenge is to write something (a poem) that involves a story or action that unfolds over an appreciable length of time. Furthermore, the poem might focus on imagery, sound, emotional content, or all three!
Single, more than a little confused,
too young to drink legally,
yet old enough to wear a uniform
and to carry a loaded gun and
to kill the right people.
Black and white memories flash
with Kodachrome images of the
the dismal rolling landscape of west Texas,
under cloudless skies loved
by jack rabbits, rattlesnakes, and other natives.
We stood side-by-side watching big silver
eight-engine birds pushing black smoke,
shaking concrete runways and buildings,
and digging into a young man’s bones and his soul,
calling me. “Come son. The sky will be ours.”
Dreamily I said, “I will fly those birds someday.”
His white teeth showed through a friendly grin
of disbelief. I didn’t know how or when,
or maybe I doubted it too. A dream too big?
Marriage and then college, and real life happened.
I let that dream die. My family was my life.
Mom was proud. My aunt bought me my ring.
Then waiting, sitting alone. Again, the sound.
“Come back to us. The skies are ours.”
My call to go where men find glory.
Again, wearing a uniform. Soon, months pass.
Then an officer and a gentleman.
My ups and downs, but then silver wings adorn.
My choices, Phantoms of glory, movers and shakers,
spinners and winners, or an old memory
of my friend’s doubtful smile. My dream.
The twenty-year-old lumbering big jet
called me “son” years back when I stood there
in younger man’s clothes. The sights and the smells,
sounds not so sweet as the memory of that day,
When I told the world and I saw the black smoke,
“Someday I’ll come back and together we’ll fly.”
One day we landed on that west Texas base,
I stood on the same spot as he and I had.
I smiled and said, “Today is my someday.”
The day 25 NaPoWriMo prompt encourages me to write a poem in the form of a warning label about myself.
For humor, I decided to twist the prompt a little. I also added too many warning memes for the same reason. Sorry. I hope you laugh. I did.
When I flew airplanes for the US Air Force we used (and carried with us while flying) many technical instructions, called tech orders. All military flying has similar things but may call them something different (i.e. Navy is NATOPS because thou shalt not out acronym the US Navy). The most important of these weighty volumes, now probably carried electronically, was titled a Flight Manual (dash-one in AF jargon). If yer familiar with this, you’ve prolly guessed where I am going.
My poem has three parts: warnings, cautions, and notes. (We had to memorize warnings and cautions.) I am using the same definitions in my poem.
Warnings are operating procedures, practices, etc., which, if not correctly followed, could result in personal injury or loss of life. Cautions are practices that could result in damage or destruction of equipment, loss of effectiveness, or long-term health hazards to personnel. I will add hurt feelings, pain, and tears to the list. Notes are things essential to highlight. The folks who write that stuff don’t just make it up. One never wanted to be the reason for a warning, caution, or note being added to a tech order. But this is supposed to be about me. I used third person, casual.
I – Warnings
Irrationally defensive of loved ones.
Capital punishment opposer,
…but willing executioner, if necessary.
45 years with US DoD, never kilt a body,
…but might try anything once.
Game to breaking rules & taking chances,
…not tough enough to be too stupid.
Drives safe and wears seat belts,
…but known to play road-rage roulette.
II – Cautions
Given to fits of laughter for no reason,
…or at the most inappropriate times.
Thinks snarkasm should be Olympic sport,
…it’s his only chance for a gold medal.
Sheepishly grins at who thinks him harmless,
…often delights in being misunderstood.
Understanding & compassionate listener,
…until your whiney-ass is drama royalty.
He don’t hunt, fish, play golf, or ride a Harley,
…he writes poems, loves animals, & gots a soft heart,
… he’ll edgimacate any who sees it a weakness.
III – Notes
Thinks blunt synonymous with
…clear, concise, and brutally honest.
Loves to use foul language at random.
Likes to argue without knowing why.
Thinks Irish are the soul of humor.
Is way past old enough to know better,
…pretends to no longer give a shit.
(Bill Reynolds, USAF, Retired, 4/25/2018)
Can’t you see, Ah, Lawd, can’t cha see wha’ dat woman’s been a-doin’ ta me?
Look both ways, my way and yours.
Mind the gaps, cuz Ima’ways right.
This poem refers to crew members (called crew dogs) of B-52 bombers and to their war-time mission of dropping munitions to destroy things and kill people, thus the dogs of war. This is a dark and threatening piece, set in six stanzas of six lines each, with even and odd lines rhyming. Misery and woe are metaphors for the many types of weapons dropped. The shrill is the eerie sound bombs make as they fall. The dog, or beast, refers to the model D, or variant of B-52, which is painted black on the bottom of the airplane. Please question in comment.
Dogs of War by Bill Reynolds
Let us slip from nature’s gravity hold
We war dogs of old, both willing and bold.
Into skies we shall go with misery and woe.
To maim and to kill, who we don’t even know.
Our airman’s life is to die if we will.
Into Death’s realm, we’ll send you the shrill.
We’re lashed to the beast, the marvelous dog,
Behind us we leave the stink and a fog.
The thunderous sound of flying around
We send you a hell, you on the ground.
Wonders of war are set at our feet
Our old friend death, soon you will meet.
Destruction we’ll rain on your cities and towns,
You won’t know we’re there, we don’t make a sound.
Concussion will break you and all that is near,
Along with destruction, we’ll send you the fear.
The black-bottom dogs will come as you sleep
To rip and to tear, into hearts of your sheep.
The countdown will start, as our hearts will race,
But Death we’ll deliver at one horrible pace.
The flashes we’ll see and the fires will rise,
The dogs of war unleased, to your demise.
The horror will come as sure as the sun,
This nightmare relents when war is won.
Safe home again with guilt, we shall not feel,
Because of the blow, we were vowed to deal.
To the bar we’ll retire and review the day’s mess,
In laughter and stories, we consider success.
The beast is now resting and finding a tune,
Ready again, the dogs shall return again soon.
The horrors of war are hidden away,
The death and the misery kept well at bay.
From dogs to humans we slowly turn,
To our homes and lives we always return.
Havoc returns with the dogs of war,
Until we can say, no war! No more.
Look both ways, mind the gaps, and fill the world with love and peace.
“…Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
~ Marcus Antonius in Julius Caesar,
Act 3, scene 1, 270–275