Elegy For the Boys of the B-24 Liberator
Uncles who never cried
uncle, flew bomber planes
at eighteen, nineteen,
twenty, deafened, shot
down, saved, and purple-
to tell the tale, who never
talked about it. Instead,
taught us card tricks,
how to throw a baseball,
soothe a snarling street dog,
books we ought to read,
places to never travel—
games to get lost in,
stories flush with morals,
the fine art of forgetting
all that might wreck us.
Remember this: how we took
the long way down, obeyed
the signs and the sagging lengths
of yellow twine, skirted the dunes
to save the piping plovers
that year, every year, April
almost May, and still bitter,
when the Brewster mudflats
are moon—wind-ridged, cratering
beneath boots, mud tires, marine grade
wire mesh oyster cages and you,
in your wind breaker, hood up,
and buffeted, pacing like a tiger
in a recurring fever dream—
always hungry, fighting gravity,
barbed eyes parsing through pools,
predators and prey and our rifling,
amateur litany of taxonomy—heron,
gull, and scrabbling frightened fiddlers,
the demand of life to hang on
to life; to use, evade beak and claw,
starfish, barnacle, duck, and mussel;
to be one of the last in the last
bucket of survivors, like the fattened
oysters we grew so fond of
gutting and slurping in our late
middle age when every
living thing beguiles, teems.
Before crypto, before capital and IRAs, money
rocked solid in our pockets, jing-jangled
through warm fingers against cotton:
quarters, nickels never dulling,
rubbed to shine at split and spill.
I’m still nostalgic for those days, before debt,
when love was free, and cash was bread.
We were hungry, strummed for dough,
and o—every night a payday.
Once when the lake by your shack froze over,
I slipped out, walked on water, fancied futures—
rob a bank, pole dance, ice fish for a living.
I’d plenty of time then to be myself
or grow into someone else, and ardor enough
to relish your cheap red wine.
Mary Beth Hines’s debut poetry collection, Winter at a Summer House, was recently published by Kelsay Books. Her most recent poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction appear or will soon appear in Slant, Tar River, The Inflectionist Review, The MacGuffin, Valparaiso, SWWIM, and elsewhere. Her short fiction was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Visit her at www.marybethhines.com.