Warning from a Visitor in the Control Tower

By Calvin Thomas Jr. Calvin Thomas
To airmen crossing and communicant
With orders of this field, no landing here
But by the grace of God; no postulant
Piloting earthward should abuse his fear:
Trust in the instruments which fall their round,
Tonight the only ceiling is the ground;
Zero, from nothing into nothing made,
Signifies all of altitude that stayed.

Notice the fog that makes me all but blind;
Here in the tower my skeleton will do
To signal you. I am for all your kind
Tonight’s full complement and only crew.
Airmen, I hope you read loud and clear;
Your radios sound happy and sincere:
Roger, you say, and dive for wreaths of holly
Thinking the next voice heard will be as jolly.

Suggest you take along the death’s-head flag
And hope that waving it will set you free.
Judgment, like flights, may be a game of tag
And you can shake and plead the Varsity.
Say that team spirit was your only motive:
You shot them up and did a locomotive.
What if there is a temporary fetter?
Christ understands. He also got his letter.

I have you, heroes, holding each your course:
You shot them up a little, and you grope
Tonight with neither memory nor remorse;
My skull is watching in the radarscope.
I marvel as I track your sure downfall
How you can navigate or fly at all
For thinking of the tallies without log
Until you make an error in this fog.

Calvin Thomas, Jr., "Warning from a Visitor in the Control Tower" from Botteghe Oscure XVI (Autumn 1955). Copyright © 1955 by Calvin Thomas, Jr..  Reprinted by permission of Calvin Thomas, Jr..

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Poet Calvin Thomas Jr.

Subjects Social Commentaries, War & Conflict


Calvin Thomas Jr. was a promising young poet at Yale when, during the summer of his sophomore year, he attended John Crowe Ransom’s summer school at Kenyon College. There he met influential New Critics like Allen Tate, Mark Shorer, and Yvor Winters, who would later become a mentor. He graduated from Yale in 1951, joined the Air Force, and was sent to Germany. His story “The Comeback,” which sprang from his experience . . .

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SUBJECT Social Commentaries, War & Conflict

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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