Rescue comes from unexpected hands in Gary Bouchard’s breathtaking tribute to his veteran father.
You are falling
fast through the air
fifty-nine years ago
so far above in the Asian earth
that it seems from far away
that you are floating —
or maybe flying.
But you are finished flying
through hostile skies into which you bailed
with your bundle and your comrades
who are falling too.
Dignum et iustum est
It is just that we have done so.
Sergeant Lawrence Bouchard,
Radio OP/Gunner M-O 757,
through the occupied sky
the day after All Soul’s
in the month of the dead.
Back in Rochdale,
in the woods where your father
waits with his rifle
for the sudden stir of a rabbit,
the finally fallen oak leaves
lie in brown layers
stiffened by crystal icing.
The final preparation before
the dead earth puts on its long white alb
like a stoic New England priest.
Introibo ad altare Dei
Let us come to the altar of God.
all of your altar boy Latin
and all of your classroom Greek —
dead languages that only the dead can speak —
your day-hop studies,
your rhetorical poise,
have come to this.
Ad Deum qui baetificat inventutem meam.
To the God who is the joy of my youth.
The hollow skies are white and mute.
You reach to pull free your para
Jesus! Mother of God!
screams on its strings
and yanks the ankle-dangling straps
into your crotch with a force of fire
that lifts you by your pain
back into the sky
from whence you came.
Non nisi stultus in ventos minxit
It is a foolish man who pisses into the wind!
You float down upon your thumbs
to spare as best you can
the same sore sack of seeds that soldiers say
will be cut off by the Japanese
should they find you when you land.
“You’d be better off shooting yourself
than letting those Jap bastards take you.”
Illegitimis non carborundum
Don’t let the bastard bring you down.
Before you can consider further
whether you can pull your pistol,
the distant grassy land leaps up,
snaps your knees into your chin,
and you are standing
among small and foreign men who speak
a language that you wish were Greek.
They do not look like your rescuers,
these farmers who watched the skies
to see what would float into their fields,
and who fetch you in like fresh crops to the barn,
then float you like market goods
under the cover of canvas and night
down a river of forgetfulness
to where a banquet is made to celebrate
this fallen G.I. manna from heaven,
from Massachusetts, from Brooklyn.
Adiutòrium nostrum in nòmine Dòmini
qui fecit caelum et terram.
Our help is in the Lord
who made heaven and earth.
You are kneeling now like a movie star
with your crew in that treasured old picture
I keep in a lockbox and which
the newspaper re-printed yesterday–
your blonde hair tossed in two flanks
like Jackie Cooper—
clutching the fallen bundle of silk
you would take to have embroidered.
Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit
One day it will be a pleasure to recall these things.
You pose together with the still-life swagger
of ten men who have cheated death—
like the suave survivors from Gung Ho!
or one of those celluloid triumphs
that get replayed late, late at night
on a sleeping TV.
On the back of the photo you etched,
in the terse prose learned among those
who said only what needed to be said,
the plot’s improbable ending:
“all 10 crew members ok after rescue by Chinese guerrillas.
Kunming, China, November 4, 1943.”
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Photo by Nelson Minar / Flickr