From the airfield a few miles down the road
a new droning crowds out laughter from the lawn,
talk in the corridor, automobiles,
and the occasional crow.
There goes one—no, two, three, four:
Like lost geese they circle in practice runs
from sunup to dusk.
The Professor’s palsied right hand
stutters answers to letters heaped beside his bed.
Behind them the amaryllis on the sill surrenders
to the cold sky its slow-motion skyrocket.
Beyond the clasped flame of its bud
a P-40 zooms in at five o’clock,
high as a Negro has ever been.
Such a shame, thinks the Professor.
Might have been ploughshares, hammered
into swords. Sighing, he signs his shaky name
as Nelson tilts the stick to his left, pulls it
slightly toward him, pushes his left rudder pedal,
thumbs up at the flight-instructor, grins,
and makes a sky-roaring victory-roll.
1941: The first “Tuskegee Airmen” recruited for an experimental U.S. Army program arrive at Tuskegee.
1942, On December 9, the fighter pilots of the 99th Air Pursuit Squadron, the first graduating class of the Tuskegee Airmen, receive their orders to join U.S. combat forces in Europe. Marilyn Nelson’s father, Melvin Nelson, was in the class of 1943.
1943, On January 5, George Washington Carver dies in his sleep in his room in Dorothy Hall.
© Marilyn Nelson