Poetry

Wirraways

1939 or ’40,

Western Districts probably,

a palimpsest of roads and farms

as written by surveyors,

a landscape patched and pieced.

Above it now, the Wirraways

(“Anonymous Photographer”),

a flight of them, in V-formation,

though only four are shown,

the perspex cabins open.

Each man, one behind the other,

leather helmets, goggles raised,

is glancing sideways for the camera,

the pilot and his number 2,

the prop in front of them not quite

invisible with speed.

77, 31.

The planes all have their numbers and

the new insignia,

red/white/blue concentric rings

reduced to monochrome.

The pilots and their trainees both

wear everyday expressions.

They know the shifting shape of Europe,

the Cinesound reviews,

the headlines in The Age or Argus

but not where they’ll be fitting.

Here, down south, it’s week by week,

the bumps and grinds, the dodgy crosswinds,

the soaring Pratt & Whitney engine’s

reassuring song,

They know, of course, it’s just a trainer,

spruced by Lawrence Wackett from

American designs.

The shift to bigger, faster craft,

heavier with cannon fire

and flame for Germany,

will be their business in good time.

The clouds are high and serried

with a vanished sort of beauty,

as if in black-and-white already.

Today’s a day for practice only:

for reading charts, for better landings,

for checking every dial and needle,

for not imagining too hard

the heights that lie ahead.

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