THE PILOT HOUSE
I hear a hammer down the road
sounding the wood, and inside, my daughter
at her computer making sounds half-music,
half self-amusement. The paper
on my breakfast table describes rockets
flying in and out of Israel, in and out of Lebanon.
It reminded me of that time I went home
with Teresa Greenberg, whose dad
owned the only Rolls in town.
The Six Day War had started. Her father,
a squat and burnished contractor,
rose to grunt at me and immediately
resumed his place before the console TV,
where Moshe Dayan’s pirate’s patch
made the good eye the focus
of our world, a world put sorely away,
an old uniform with its service medals
waiting for the grandson who could
hold the whole thing up like a chart,
telling you what each ribbon and medal
signified. Years after what might have
happened followed what did, an oil tanker
steams by, the tall pilot house seeming
to inspect the trees, then sending smoke
into the low clouds, before sailing on
to the mountains beyond the treetops.
Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?
A: I was sitting on the terrace in our then-house overlooking the Puget Sound in Seattle. I was watching an oil ship round the bend heading for Elliott Bay, but it also looked as if it were heading, Werner Herzog-like, into the fir trees. It also happened to be during the most recent Israeli-Lebanese War, a fact which reminded me of my tenderness toward the Theresa Greenberg in the poem, whose family were riveted by the 6-Day War. Until then, real world events seemed shrunk by television. Ironically, when the war came television expanded the principles into giants.
Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?
A: Derek Mahon’s Selected Poems.
Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?
A: The leg of lamb, heavily salted and covered with marjoram leaves and stuffed with garlic, made by a fellow poet from my undergraduate group at Chapel Hill, a poet who years later suffered cruel visions, came a devotee of Utrantia, gave away all his possessions (including his typewriter), before disappearing into (we think) the wilds of South Carolina. I was living in Edmund Wilson’s Upstate house in the 1970s, and this poet had come to visit. He showed up with bags of groceries and copies of his only book, then proceeded to the kitchen and went to work.
David Rigsbee is the author of The Red Tower, available from NewSouth Books in September. He is the Spring, 2009 winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition with his manuscript The Pilot House, which will be published by Black Lawrence Press later this year.