In last week’s post, I presented the video of Edward Field’s Veterans History Project interview. In his interview, Edward reads his poem World War II. Edward also mentions another WWII-related poem he wrote, Cataract Op, which he has yet to publish in one of his books. Edward has kindly given me permission to publish it here.
by Edward Field
It felt so adult, at 83, going by myself to the hospital,
getting on the bus like others (all the young) headed for work
through the morning Manhattan streets
carrying umbrellas and newspapers, disappearing into subways,
lining up at carts for a (careless, cholesterol-rich) paper bag breakfast.
When the bus pulled up at the hospital stop,
I got out and walked in, calm,
like I remember in the war flying into combat
with maybe a touch of nerves, but no great anxiety,
more like excitement.
Then it all went efficiently, the procedures of pre-op,
as I was passed from station to station, each technician doing his job,
like once the squadrons of silver bombers
in wing to wing formation roared through the crystal sky,
each of the crew busy, me at my desk with my instruments
calculating our course and noting in the log
wind drift and speed and altitude,
courteously calling “navigator to crew…,”
to read out our position and estimated time of arrival.
Our goal of the mission that day was the Ruhr,
a land of mines and furnaces, with a cataract of thick black smoke
rising from the factories cranking out anti-aircraft guns
like the ones lobbing up the deadly black bursts at us.
Now I was being wheeled into the hall outside the operating room
where I joined a line of gurneys waiting their turn at the laser,
as the squadrons in stately procession wheeled
in a wide circle around the city, lined up for the bombing run,
the flak peppering the air thickly under us.
Finally, the moment, my moment —
and I was wheeled into the operating room under a spotlight,
my eye taped open, but my mind alert
as the surgeon went to work, the oh-so-delicate work, with his instruments…
and the earlier moment — our squadron’s turn —
we headed in tight formation right into the midst
of the bursting antiaircraft shells,
the bomb bay doors opening with a grinding whine.
Our wings were rocking perilously close to the neighboring planes,
while the pilot fought to keep the heaving plane on course
over the bulls eye of the target below,
and I too was busy, shards of flak rattling off the aluminum walls around me,
my hand jiggling as I recorded in my log
the burning buildings, planes going down, the exact time of…
bombs away —
now to get out of here!
It was over so fast. The nurse was already taping up my eye
and I was wheeled back into the corridor feeling happy,
as on that day of the mission, we turned on a wing
and wheeled west toward home
with the late sun lighting up the heavenly landscape of clouds,
brighter than I had ever seen before.
Published by permission of the author
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018 (excluding Cataract Op by Edward Field)