Airplanes Over the Bog

In response to Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “The Pear Tree”

Bagno. The name means bog.
The village may have been a bog
before the drainage ditches
gridded it into kolkhoz.

Crop dusters buzz in the cloudy sky—
always cloudy over Bagno,
always muddy at the kolkhoz gate
where the people’s tractor
shudders diesel smoke through a soot-blacked chimney.

Cloudy sky like a black and white
newsreel from WWII
where an airplane buzzes low,
and drops a finned black bomb
like a soda fountain cartridge
and a child runs with a black mouth
open but inaudible over the buzz. The bomb
does not hum, does not hiss, does not cry,
and I can’t tell in the black and white film
if the child’s mouth is full of shadows or blood.

In the fields black molehills
erupt like impact craters,
but we never see the blind
excavators alive.

My cousin’s model airplane
burns fuel oily and metallic,
buzzes above us in the cloudy field,
flies to the edge of radio range,
then out of range
down into the calamus,
into the cattails, into the wet edge
of the black pine forest seeping night,
and burrows its lacquered nose in peat.

First published in Residual Heat under my pseudonym Aga Black.

About this poem

When I was about to post this poem, I looked up Brigit Pegeen Kelly so I could link to her biography, and learned that she died last year. I no longer know what to say when someone asks me who is my favorite living poet. In 1997 I heard Brigit Pegeen Kelly read from her book Song at the Aran Islands Poetry Festival in Galway, Ireland. I was attending it as one of the winning young poets sent by the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. I was so taken with her work that I overcame my habitual shyness and went up to her afterwards to tell her how much I loved it, and I gave her the only thing I could think of, my poetry chapbook, although it seemed rather paltry in comparison to what I had just heard. I also bought her book, which I foolishly neglected to ask her to sign. I wish I had.

Over the years, I read the poems in Song and The Orchard many times. Many of my poems are inspired by hers. I meant to tell her how much her poems meant to me. I mean to send her some of them, but it seemed presumptuous. Now it’s too late.