Despite empty fuel tanks and a thick patina of dust on the windscreens, the old bomber maintains air speed and a steady altitude, and has kept a constant heading throughout the seasons since 1952. Bolted as it is to a concrete pedestal on the north edge of town, it functions as a sort of giant sundial at the centre of a Memorial Garden, and the wings that once lifted to defend democracy in Europe and America now project their shade with benign indifference on all: sitters, walkers, passing kids or the occasional drunk or drifter needing a place to sleep it off.
Its postwar history has not, however, always been so peaceful. Passing through town on a hunting trip in the late sixties, I noticed it had been redecorated. The old plane, in the irreverent spirit of the times, was being made to bear ironic motley. Peace symbols and psychedelic slogans were scribbled or spray painted over nearly every foot of its wings and sides; and it sat behind a temporary wire fence to be recoated with its usual black for Memorial Day, coming up in a few weeks.
But the massive American bombing raids had resumed in Vietnam, and would cause even our small town's normally reflective ceremonies for the honored dead to explode into riotous conflict. The TV showed local hawks and doves, as they struggled together noisily in the bomber's shadow, plastering each other with eggs, with curses, and with worse. Yes, old thunder was on course for another buffeting, and would need yet another paint job.
Hoping for some peace and solitude, I stopped in town just long enough to fill the tank and buy some shells. But our disgraced symbol stayed with me.
the same old ragged patterns
across the moon