Friday, June 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Fighter Pilot

I missed posting this for Father's Day because I was lollygagging at Isle of Palms in South Carolina with most of my husband's family---a lovely, relaxing launch to summer.

 But why not celebrate dads a week longer?

Here's me, with my dad, taken at his med school graduation:

We share a love of books, bad puns, lifelong learning, and outdoor adventure. Because he was a surgeon, I didn't get to observe his work, but I knew he could be called in at any hour to operate on someone who desperately needed his skill.  He could also be counted upon for elaborate practical jokes---including one that involved a fake radio broadcast of an alien invasion at the nearby Tyson-McGee Airport. He bakes bread from scratch, recently enjoyed discovering The Phantom Tollbooth (great puns there), and has been married fifty years to my mom.

And here's my daughter, Rebecca, with her dad:

Rebecca in her "meeting" dress with her daddy
(First deployment to Iraq)
Rebecca's grandmother made that dress specifically for her to wear to greet her daddy. Later, she would learn a new father appreciation song---and drive us nearly insane singing "You're a Grand Old Dad" over and over during a cross-country move. Most recently, the two of them handled an epic move to grad school together, complete with cat and U-Haul and towed car trailer.

The references in her poem may not be clear to those who didn't grow up as a fighter pilot's daughter. But that's the beauty of father-daughter bonds---they are story written together.

The Fighter Pilot
by Rebecca Holmes

The throttle, the pressure suit, the callsign,
the rubber sleeves, the formation. The story
about being hit by lightning. Saturdays at the squadron
and urgent missions: rows of fake switches

in the simulator to flip all on, all off, and test flights
on the bench-press. The bar songs with the dirty parts
revised, the crud table, the afterburners,
the sortie, the tower, the roofstomp:

lexicon of all the nomad people who must
have left these rituals for us, although
scattered in pieces between Alabama, Virginia,
Rhode Island, Mississippi. The burning piano,

solemn prank and memorial for some long-dead
R. A. F. aviator, repeated here for the unspoken
name and for what might happen. The one about
the dead lizard in the Philippines. The broken nose.

The war stories, the sand, the contractors on the farm
where he grew up, building a silo, who didn’t
need advice and called him college boy. Always
the catfish meunière on the first night home

from the desert. He said the ice cream in the cafeteria
wasn’t bad at all. When I was a baby in Japan,
my feet never touched the ground until the box
of Tennessee dirt from my grandmother arrived,

until the proper ceremony, the flag, all the men
in dress blues filling the little house. Never
the slightest doubt about any tale in this canon.
I have seen the movies. I know fighter pilots

are all supposed to have a tragic flaw and someone
dies before the end. It wasn’t like that, but in August
on bike-rides we would peel out from the driveway
in formation. And at bedtime the trundle bed

was a runway: procedure was observed, the tower
notified, landing gear extended, instruments checked, and I
had to call the ball, Rebecca. It was better than any
cinema dogfight. We never needed enemies or flames.

                                        ----Rebecca M. Holmes (all rights reserved)

Poetry Friday is hosted today at Carol's Corner.


  1. Beautiful, Sarah, and huzzah for Rebecca.

    My father was an Air Force pilot -- the poem is great.

  2. I love this. Makes me want to see what I can put together for my dad. Thanks so much, Rebecca, I'll bet your dad loved this tribute!

  3. Wowed once again by Rebecca's talent! Love every bit of this post -- great photos, heartwarming sentiment, and what a poem :).

  4. What a gorgeous talent she puts to such excellent use. Lovely.

  5. LOVE the ending: We never needed enemies or flames. Hoping she's made a good start to her summer in Illinois!

  6. What an amazing tribute! You're right -- I didn't understand all the words, but the love oozed out of every line.

    Any interest in (or time for) hosting a PF round up? Sign up is here:

  7. As Mary Lee said--this is a wonderful tribute to two great fathers. Your daughter is a very talented young woman.


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