-17

Broken cumulus hangs above Simpson Harbor.
Rabaul's landscape of rain-forest green dotted
with roofs' red abruptly ends at a gray sea
reflecting the clouds, covering the wrecks below.
No traces of wake from the screws of the zigzagging
Japanese vessels, the impact of the bombs delivered
photo: battleship wreck
by American carrier planes, back when Saratoga
and Princeton evoked not places but steels of war,
remain on the placid water, here at the equator
more mirror than wave. A warm rain will come,
falling from slow clouds, and sink beneath.

No glass is left in the Zero. Pastels
of caralline algae cover the decayed
instrument panel, the controls of the 7.7mm
machine guns. A school of silversides
teems in the cockpit. Sand has almost
covered the wings. A barrel sponge,
shaped like a volcano, darkly quiet,
grows before the three-pronged prop.
Thick water eases past the plane
without sound, softly, the
sharp air and hard edges of war
in the big open above New Britain
now decades past. At night
there is illumination only by shadow.

photo: sunken bomber

When a B-17 unburdened its bombs the fliers
could always feel the bird lift toward heaven,
suddenly so light any height seemed possible.
The thousand-pounders, too heavy for the sky's blue
to hold, plummeted toward their target as the
formation began its right turn over the Bismarck
Archipelago toward home. When an evening storm rose
over the Solomon Sea a flak-struck Fortress, still
far from Port Moresby, fell behind, starboard
engines feathered, then fighting against but giving
finally to a 17's tendency toward a wing-over-
wingend roll descended to the swamping sea.
Now the water idles through the waist gunnery,
among the bomb racks and pilots seats.
Nearby on the seafloor redly glows a fire urchin,
venomous spines erect; oranges, whites and blacks,
a ghost pipefish moves among gorgonian reefs.
Deeper in the darkness, purple anthiases and yellow
damselfish search for plankton near chalice coral.