Zygmunt Frankel


The Glider Pilot

Out of reverence for flying, I may have romanticized or exaggerated in some of these poems. For example ("Icarus") I am not sure a lightning at close range can permanently blind and deafen a pilot, while convinced that no sane pilot would ever go into such a cloud; put it down to poetic license.
"In Memoriam " turned out more sinister. At the time I wrote it it was purely imaginary. No one I knew had ever been killed in a gliding accident. Our instructors never sent anyone solo, air-tow, soaring, or cross-county without proper instruction and training. The row of photographs on the wall was there, but they were of club members who were also airforce pilots and died in Israel's wars. Then, a few years after I wrote the poem, Yoram Mohliver, who introduced hang-gliding to Israel and counted me among his first pupils, was killed when his hang- glider crashed into a cliff. A few years later, Yair Shakhar, who succeeded Yoram as Israel's top hang-glider pilot - and also introduced paragliding to Israel, and again counted me among his first pupils - died in a freak accident in Brazil. He and several other pilots from various countries arrived there a few days before an international competition, to learn the area and the conditions. Yair was standing on a ridge beside his hang-glider when another pilot passed overhead, cutting a high- tension wire which fell on Yair and electrocuted him on the spot. Nothing happened to the other pilot.


The sun is hot, and souls evaporate
out of old planes, brought here to slowly die,
and young ones, fresh from death, with broken, battered wings.

The rigor mortis of rust is slowly setting in,
and the cemetery is quiet, with grasshoppers for phantoms.


There is a time, a little after sunset,
when the sun, already denied to us, still shines
upon the feathers of a flying bird.

And I have known such sunlights on my wings,
in the uprising breath of the warm earth,
while the grass of the airfield down below
was graying fast and settling for the night.


There are these clouds and my glider. The earth is far away,
shut out by the cockpit perspex, smudged by the deep blue air,
her sounds muffled by the wind past the glider,
smells stolen by the height. And there is an estrangement growing
between me and the earth.

I should go down and land; struggle out of the cramped cockpit
and the parachute harness; and walk the warm mother again,
breathing her air and smells, humming her tunes.

But then I would never see the clouds so near again,
and each of them, overhead, would catch, like the earth today,
at a thin scar-string of a bygone love.


I must have been a cloud once,
drifting and lonely,
a crosser of borders,
white-bearded father of rains,
caresser of soaring birds,
painter of rainbows,
a lonely shadow over lonely plains.

I must have gone once
through somewherelses,
over other ranges,
other shades of green,
where there are no friends,
no strangers,
and no sounds carried by another wind.

I must have died once
without really dying,
like a child when its mother dies;
like a bird, lone and white, flying,
long after its eggshell crumbles and dries.


I stay at home,
deaf and blind,
remembering my last flight all the time.

On wings of wood and fabric
I crept too close
to things terrifying from afar.

I never knew
storm clouds could be so huge and black,
and boiling like a witches' cauldron.

Then lightning, thunder,
one, simultaneous, right in front of the glider,
and across my ears and eyes.

By touch alone, I bailed out;
the wind on my face was silent,
and the invisible parachute lowered me safely to the invisible earth.

I can speak,
but I prefer not to.
The storm still speaks to me, and there is nothing to equal its voice.


From time to time, in the loud smoky club hut
(furniture fit for the scrap heap, floor flooded during winter rains)
a face detaches itself from the crowd
and joins the row of photographs on the wall, to stare over our heads,
silent within its two neatly printed dates.

We always hope it's the last time, and it never is.

There was the sunny day when, in the shade of a wing,
I took down the number of your glider and the take-off time
as you passed by, in tow, already airborne.

Concrete runways are hot and dry in summer,
and blood on them dries quickly.

What can I wish you? To sleep well, if sleep you do?
Sweet dreams, if dreams you have? Peace, if there be such a thing?
The insurance company has paid for a new glider,
and your girl has forgotten you under other men.

Your memory lingers
behind smudged corners of clouds, and do you know where else?
In the recess at the back of the pilot's seat where the parachute fits.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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