Sunday Near a Naval Air Base

by JOHN CIARDI
THE boy’s mind that too much machinery
Dazzled as blank as death, hangs hawking high —
Slow-roll and climb — across the Sunday sky
Of beaches uncomputed by artillery,
Where no tanks roared for blood, and children’s faces
Press trustfully against the window glass
Of family cars along the overpass
To watch his running sparkle, like a fuse’s.
They feed on hot-dogs and their innocence
And send him admiration, fill his tanks,
Pencil his maps. Their arms bank when he banks
Where practice makes death’s perfect balance
Turn on a hinge of wings, answering a wrist,
To spill in avalanche on the least of these
Who carnival the Sundays of their peace
In the folk-pattern of the motorist.
I know that boy. Six friendly days in tweed
He carries books and answers from his desk
Whatever meaningless questions I might ask,
But this one day is uniforms and speed
In the reserve of death, whose metal voice
Answers no questions, whose command
Is wired by reflex to his hand
Where only earphones name a moral choice.
I fear his kind across a world’s whole width.
When last I followed him in another sky
I cheered him, knew which way he meant to fly.
And all I had to fear was my own death.
I watch him now, awed as the children are
At his pure motion. But I cannot guess
What tokens will be on his battle dress
When all his Sunday practice goes to war.
That boy outnumbers hope. His laughing skill
Maddens the will to reason. I retreat
Shedding myself in handbills down the street
Knowing that every death is possible
This year or next: a fad of history
To score the corpses on the fuselage
In the three stencils: bomb, cross, flag.
Man is the measure of trajectory.