The First Airborne Division, Harlaxton, 1943
John Walser

June 23, 2016


In dim light over the kitchen rooms
RAF pilots drew on the walls
parachutes and Pegasus wings:
the patches on their shoulders:

and the long legged women
they’d not yet met.

They listened for cough pop engines
taking off and landing:
the sound like certain disaster:

against a silver smelting sky
the plane’s underbellies
like a school of fish in formation
the acrobatics of peril
smoke trailed strange punctuation.

And they boasted about girls back home
ones from villages, ones from London

ones whose knees they swam between
pond silt breath held
ankles grabbed, smooth calves stroked

looking up at the washout blare
looking up at their ripple distorted bodies

not underwater dreaming then
as they did waiting in those rooms
of the horse haunch gadfly sting:
its rider thrown headfirst
down the gods’ mountain
thistle and stone tossed
sparrow broken to the ground.


John Walser, an associate professor of English at Marian University in Wisconsin, holds a doctorate in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Barrow Street, Nimrod, Spillway, The Pinch, december magazine, Fourth River, Superstition Review, the Evansville Review, and Bird’s Thumb. He was a featured poet in September 2014 at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. The recipient of the 2015 Lorine Niedecker Poetry Prize as well as a Pushcart nominee and a semi-finalist for the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, John is currently submitting three manuscripts of poetry for publication.

What motivates him to create?
I know this may sound mildly masochistic, but…I like the pain behind my eye that I feel when I’m not coming up with the right word or image or line, when I can’t make it work, when I don’t know how to finish a poem. The process as much as the finished project is what makes me happy. I want to see how it turns out. I want to see where it branches off. I want to see how it shimmers or shimmies or shatters. That’s what motivates me to write and to create.