Assemblage of Ruined Plane Parts, Vietnam Military Museum, Hanoi

My eye climbs a row of spoilers soldered
into ailerons, cracked bay doors haphazarded
into windows where every rivet bleeds
contrails of rust. An hour ago, the doctor’s wand
waved across my chest and I watched blood
on a small screen get back-sucked
into my weakened heart. It’s grown a hole
I have to monitor: one torn flap
shuddering an infinite ellipsis of gray stars
back and forth. You’re the writer, the doctor said
in French. Tell me what you see. Easier to stand
in a courtyard full of tourists scrying shapes
from this titanic Rorschach. Here’s a pump stub
shaped like a hand; something celled,
cavernously fluted as a lobster’s
abdomen. How much work
it must have taken to drag these bits
out of pits of flame, from lake beds
and rice paddies, and stack them in layers:
the French planes heaped beneath
the American ones, while the Englishwoman
beside me peers into this mess
of metals, trying to isolate one image
from the rest. Ski boot buckle
or tire pump, she muses at me, fossilized
shark’s jaw, clothespin, wasp’s nest?
According to the camera, it’s just a picture
changing with each angle, relic
turned to rib cage, chrome flesh
to animal: all the mortal details
enumerated, neutered. I watch her trace
an aluminum sheet torched across a thruster
as if wind had tossed a silk scarf
over a face. If she pulled it back, would I find
a body foreign as my own entombed
in here, a thousand dog tags
jangling in the dark? I tilt my head: the vision slides
once more past me, each plane reassembling
then breaking apart. Spikes of grief—
or is it fury?—throb across the surface.
Everything has a rip in it, a hole, a tear, the dim sounds
of something struggling to pry open
death’s cracked fuselage. White sparks,
iron trails. My heart rustles
in its manila folder. How the doctor smiled
at the images I fed him: A row of trees, I said,
pointing at my chart. Stone towers,
a flock of backlit swallows
                                                          Now I kneel beside a cross
of blades on which the Englishwoman
tries to focus. Do you think I’ll get it
all in the shot? she calls as she steps back.
Steps back and back. Something like a knife sheath.
Something like a saint’s skull. The sky
floats past, horizon sucked into it. She won’t.

Paisley Rekdal, "Assemblage of Ruined Plane Parts, Vietnam Military Museum, Hanoi" from Imaginary Vessels. Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press,
Source: Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
More Poems by Paisley Rekdal