Friday, October 26, 2012

Missiles, Retired and Otherwise

Our local NPR affiliate, WLRN, was running Cuban Missile Crisis stories yesterday morning.  They included an interview with Dr. Henry Mack, a man who was very close to sending missiles to Cuba.

He said, "Seeing four 41-foot Nike Hercules Missiles painted white, pointed skyward is a formidable and frightening sight."

His comment reminded me of seeing an ICBM in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  Here I was, nose to nose with one of the missiles that had haunted my nightmares for so long.  And it looked so tame.

I wrote a poem which first appeared in The Ledge.  This week-end, the 50 year anniversary of the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has been to nuclear war thus far, seems a good time to print it here.  And it's a great way to celebrate Disarmament Week, which commemorates the founding of the UN (more info here).  May we all continue to be safe from nuclear nightmares--and those nightmares caused by other kinds of missiles.

ICBM Retirement

Strange to see you in this Museum of Air and Space,
when for years you gave us neither:
spectre of our youth, haunting nightmares
and torturing us with thoughts of nuclear winter and instant
adulthood. Able to leap across continents,
to hone in on a world half a planet away,
fearsome fury kept coiled in silos
underneath the most fertile soil
in the hemisphere, you must wonder
what you’ve done to deserve this ignominious fate.

It takes two stories to encase you in plexiglass.
Children who have not heard of your prowess press
their runny noses and hands on the glass to leave prints.
In your glory days, you could have vaporized
them in a heartbeat, but now you let them stare.

So few want to stare, after all. Attracted
to the sexier exhibits, Skylab and the IMAX theatres,
most visitors leave you to your metallic
silence. Your sinister sleekness repels
all but the most dedicated Cold Warriors.

What haunts your nightmares? Do you
scream to wakefulness at the visions
of happy children growing into their full potential?
Maybe you long for weapons you weren’t meant to mate,
the heavy breathing of a machine gun, the orgasmic roar
of an airplane as it hoists you up and over.

Or perhaps I’m unfair.
Perhaps you crave an altogether different
destiny: loving hands to scrape away the rust,
paint you shiny once more,
plant flowers in your every nook and cranny.

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