Kevin Prufer

A Toy Airplane
January 15, 2012 Prufer Kevin

A Toy Airplane


The tumor

nestled among the hills

between the hospital and the air force base.


The angels fluttering above the lamps in the parking lot

watched it.

The boy who rode the elevator to the highest floor

watched it—


At night it pulsed thickly—

strange root, nocturnal eye opening—

though by day it returned to itself,

a black fist buried loosely in the dirt.


Sometimes, during take-off, his room filled with such roaring

he felt as if the tumor had split apart,

though he knew this was an airplane,

afterburners receding over the fields.


Sometimes, the quick skid of landing waked him

to his mother’s hand

resting warmly on his forehead.

Darling, darling, she said,

smoothing his hair.

I have brought you things from home.


From the hospital’s top floor,

he watched angels flutter above the parking lot

like translucent insects.

If he looked closely, he could see the bombs

beneath their wings

before the airplanes tipped and veered,

disappeared over the hills.


He dreamed the elevator shaft

rose up and up

like an endless throat,

and he rose with it.


Darling, his mother told him,

did you eat?  

Darling, here is a book, here is a soldier,

here is a toy airplane from your room,

            do you remember the airplane,

it’s the one that hung over your bed—


When the planes dropped their bombs,

some dug into the earth,

where they grew thick-skinned and large,

or so he imagined

pressing his face to the glass.


I held you in my arms, she said,

and I carried you around the house,

but you cried and cried, I could not make you stop,

                             so finally

I set you on the bathroom floor and ran a bath

                               and—it must have been the rush

of water—you closed your eyes,

                   and slept.


Below ground, the tumor,

many-layered as an onion, grew pale and glowed.


You were like an angel, asleep on the bathroom floor—


when the abrupt thump of a body against the glass

startled him,

its translucent wings quivering,

brittle-skinned, thin-tailed, its thorax ridged

and pulsing greenly—


wake up, she was saying, wake up


and the curious angel,

face pressed to the window,

peered inside.

Poet and editor Kevin Prufer was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned degrees from Wesleyan University, Hollins University, and Washington University. His work, which has been praised for its elegiac attention to the banalities of the contemporary United States, includes In a Beautiful Country (2011), a finalist for the Rilke Prize and listed as a 2011 Notable Book by the Academy of American Poets, and National Anthem (2008), named best poetry book of the year by the Virginia Quarterly Review. Other collections of poetry include Fallen From a Chariot (2005), The Finger Bone (2002, reissued 2013), and Strange Wood (1997). A bilingual edition of Prufer’s poetry appeared in Germany as Wir wollten Amerika finden: ausgewählte Gedichte: zweisprachig (2011), selected and translated by Norbert Lange and Susanna Mewe.