Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jets; A. R. Ammons

What happened to "sonic booms"--the noise made by airplanes that go faster than the speed of sound? I haven't heard one in ages. Growing up in the Sierra Nevada, I heard them all the time. That's an exaggeration. But at least 5 a year, usually in the summer. We assumed they were caused by high-flying jet fighter-planes coming out of an Air Force base in Nevada, but I don't remember exactly what kind of planes they were. I do remember an extraordinarily startling boom. Every so often, if lightning struck very close, the ensuing thunder might match a sonic boom, but otherwise the latter was the loudest boom I'd ever heard. It seemed like it was all the windows could do to keep from breaking, and the house rattled. Then, if you went outside and looked up (and the sky was clear), you could see the beginning of the white jet-trail, high up, and at the head of that trail, an object that looked not much bigger than a needle.

After opening with this jet-digression, I'll now present a jet-poem by A.R. Ammons, who died in 2001, after a long, distinguished career as a poet and professor. He published at least a dozen books of poems, which concerned wide-ranging, eclectic subjects, were often written in a casual, unpretentious voice, but also often featured unexpected phrasing and great attention to detail. As far as I know, it's appropriate to post this poem because it already appears online, on the Modern American Poetry site. In any case, the copyright information appears below the poem:

Elegy for a Jet Pilot

by A.R. Ammons

The blast skims
over the string
of takeoff lights
and
relinquishing
place and time
lofts to
separation:
the plume, rose
sliver, grows
across the
high-lit evening
sky: by this
Mays Landing creek
shot pinecones,
skinned huckleberry
bush, laurel
swaths define
an unbelievably
particular stop.

Copyright © 1998 A. R. Ammons. from Selected Poems, by A.R. Ammons (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987).

My own jet-poem concerns gardening underneath (so to speak) a jet. I live much closer to an Air Force base (and an Army base with aircraft) now than when I lived in California; there are frequently U.S. airplanes overhead. The poem appeared previously in a magazine, but at the moment, I can't remember which one. I'll have to do some digging, not the gardening kind. The poem:

Skeins

Unroll a skein of shadows,
clip segments and arrange these
in a garden, where daffodil blossoms
bow. A supersonic warplane
practices overhead, unrolling
paired white skeins of ice.
Between a garden and a warplane
lies a little distance—measured
in mere feet. Told a certain way,
all of history fits into that
space, and this may be one reason
you feel small while wondering
where you stored green twine
used to tie up vines. A
short segment of daylight remains.
The warplane may still be heard.

Copyright 2007 Hans Ostrom

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