above the Pacific, January 1969
Rows ahead, rows behind, soldiers hunch
into themselves in the ghostly quiet
of this chartered, carpeted 707,
jungle fatigues bloused at boot tops.
Ventilation panels flank our ankles
for Southeast Asian heat to come.
We are dog-tagged numbers dangling
on beaded chains, but the Army covers
all bets: blood type, religion, metallic name.
I'm a child beside an infantry captain
whose silence sprawls over the armrest
into my space. He fumbles a passel
of photos, shuffles a wife, blond kids.
He's a mountain, sloped, bucolic, stoic.
Our porthole's a tondo of black sky, stars.
I conjure my mother, father, sister,
a paddy in which to hide. The stewardess
attends us tenderly, and as she leans in
to ask what I'd like, her hair, so clean,
falls toward her lips, and one fine strand
shines free. She slips away through jet-whine,
enfleshing what feels like abandonment.
Greg McBride's collection of poems, Porthole, won the 2012 Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry. His work appears in Boulevard, Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review Online, Hollins Critic, River Styx, Salmagundi, and Southern Poetry Review. His awards include the 2008 Boulevard Emerging Poet prize and an individual artist grant in poetry from the Maryland State Arts Council. A Vietnam veteran and retired lawyer, McBride edits The Innisfree Poetry Journal.