308. “Am On My Course”

“Eighteen hours,
Sixteen minutes.
What a flight!
Hawaii to the mainland!
Never done before–two
Thousand, four hundred miles.
Touched down at one-thirty.
‘Dark, fog, winds
Capricious’–that means fast–
First, Atlantic!
Now, Pacific!
Asked Station KPO
For ground conditions.
But wouldn’t tell the Navy
Where she was!”–laughing,
Louise tapped the clipping.
“Says here some
‘Lieutenant Williams’ said,
‘I’m assigned to meet her,
But I don’t know where–
Oakland? Further south?
Here I wait, till she tells
Where she’ll land!’
She radios down:
‘Am on my course.’
All she’ll tell them:
‘On my course’!
I love it!”

Louise, sitting back on Riah’s floor,
Scanned the dog-eared stories
Scattered round.
“Where’d you get these?” –wary,
Riah asked.
“Those Roosevelt men, WPA,
Fixed up the library
In the school,
Fit for the whole town.
Magazines, newspapers.
This, I ripped.”
“Spare me, please”–
Louise waved her off.
“January twelfth: says here, happened
One year from the day
Navy seaplanes flew in
From the coast, landing
At Pearl Harbor base.
Scores of men there,
But she crosses,
All alone.”

Edgy, Riah pulled
The picture from the pile.
Why had her back tensed?
Something in Louise’s voice,
She guessed….The photo:
White blouse, flying jacket,
Cropped-off hair.
“Folks threw roses at her,”
Riah said.

That’s not the point.
Listen here:
I got an article,
Was wrote by her.”
Louise pawed the scraps.
“You should like her, Riah.
Drove a truck–
Delivered sand and gravel.
Lost friends: ‘I became
A nobody. Such things
Were not done.’
Was a social worker,
And a nurse–
Well, assistant nurse, like me.
Know why she says
She flew the Atlantic?”
“‘I wanted to.’
‘I wanted to,’ she says!”

Fourishing a picture, Louise
Pointed: “Her plane’s red and
Gold. Here she writes:
‘Beauty and adventure
Have a certain value of
Their own, weighed only in
Spiritual scales.’
That’s deep, don’t you think?
‘Spiritual.’ And:
‘Adventure is worthwhile in itself.’
In itself! ‘Use the talents,’ says,
‘Which give you joy.’ Says,
Talking here on flying,
‘–Too high or too low brings
Equal danger.'”
Louise paused.
“What the hell can that mean?
Says she has respect
‘For cents and dollars.
They pay the rent.’
That’s wise,” nodding slow.
“‘But they’re not'”–she squinted–
“‘The final measure–‘”
Louise stopped and sighed.
“Sometimes, it’s all too much
To take in.”

Riah, broom aside,
Crouched to a clipping.
She asked, uneasy: “What
Do you do with these?”
“Study them at night,”
Replied Louise.
“Plus, I’ve found out more–
Inside dope.
The cosmetics grapevine.
Want to hear?”
“You’ll never guess–
She’s got a friend,
Another lady flier,
In the make-up business!
Had a beauty shop back
In Biloxi, my aunt said.
Don’t that seem odd,
Some coincidence,
Riah frowned.
Louise, now, was pressing her
For something–
But for what?
Abruptly, Louise turned,
The papers in a mess.
“But this one–the best.
‘Holds the women’s record
For continuous flight
Over water.’ Ha!
She flies way above
What we can’t have!”

Louise rested,
Almost satisfied.
Riah had been listening.
She saw.
“Some things, deserve
Being listened to,”
Louise said, stern, as in
Reprimand. Then,
“Where’s James?”
“James! Come
Listen to some Shakespeare!”
Louise called, expansive,
“It’s Shakespeare!”
James, from the back bedroom:
“Ma’am, so what!”
“So Earhart,
In this piece,
She quotes Shakespeare!
You’ll love it!”
“No I won’t!”

Louise shrugged,
“She went to college–
Out west? California?
When you go to college,
You can quote. To wit–”
She held the smudged newsprint
To the light–“‘Tis
Dangerous to take a cold,
To sleep, to drink:
But I tell you, my lord fool,
Out of this nettle, danger,
We pluck this flower,

James never came.
Louise read to herself.

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