Grand Palais

Peace at seventeen thousand feet,
droning eastward, the dying sun
clings crimson to the fading day,
cloud tails lacing the darkening land
as the sky purples to black.
Long hours to savour last nights revelry
the ribaldry at the bar, the comradeship,
the trip in the old MG tie slapping the face
along the country lanes to the ‘Grand Palais’.
The blare of saxophones, trumpet’s blaze,
trombones sliding into Big Band swing,
those dance floor pheromones.
The touch of her hand, the softness of her cheek,
her body heat in the crowded sway
of the ‘please-don’t-ever-end’ last waltz.
That final hug and kiss,
the urgency – ‘tomorrow may not come.’

Later flat on summer grass, happy and calm
wondering at this same sky,
stars like bullet holes on black.

Isolated in the crowded heavens,
losing height, sinking into danger,
(blanket of friendly fighters little comfort now)
the crackling shell-burst threatens below,
searchlights scythe the pocked and broken path
light the turret like a wide death’s eye.

Swinging wildly at the fighters skimming in,
centring the trembling sight, clutching the trigger,
deafening clatter of machinegun fire ..
the bitter taste of hatred and cordite and tears.
“This is for Derek, this is for John,
for Arthur, for Freddie, for Wilbur, for Tom!

The plane swerves on to the bombing run,
slowly, predictably creeps on and on
along the excruciating line to release
through minutes long as hours
steady in the chaos of the terrifying flack,
luck the only known defence.

“Not today! Not on today’s list please!
I have to have just one more Saturday
at the ‘Grand Palais’,
on the summer grass
under the sentinel stars.”

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