The Young Chief
Has Returned Home

 

Puffs of gray black smoke billow
Behind the alunimum jet pods of Air Force One;
A thin piercing shrill fills the air
Mounts to a defiant ear-splitting outcry
That casts it challenge in thirty spokes,
Reaching to the rim of Dallas County.

November sun glints off the great craft
As it slowly turns about and trundles
Out the taxi strip to a runway,
On her sides the bright blue inscription,
United States of America,
On the hatch, the Presidential Seal.

Inside the moving plane, slightly swaying,
And bobbing, swathed in cotton batting,
Wrapped in sheets, within a casket,
Lay his pale and piiful remains,
Young John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
Two-and-a-half hours ago President
of the United States of America.

The plane pivots on its nose wheel,
Hesitates a moment, then rolls,
Wheel brakes free, jet engines blasting,
Switches pulled down, accelerating,
The full roar of the engines
Break like thunder over the airport.

Concrete sections of runway whip backwards
In a stream of motion until the heavy craft
Lifts off the ground,
Climbs at a steep angle, escaping
Into the rain-washed cerulean sky.

Soft feathery clouds await her coming,
Gently shroud the riveted metal skin,
Wash it with freshets of dew,
Left behind on the ground
Are the kerosene fums.

Between earth and sky
Stretches and umbilical cord
Trailing away to infinity;
Throughout the land, across the oceans,
Word of the horrible act has spread.
People are numbed, uncomprehending,
Unbelieving of the simple facts:
The young president is dead.

Air Force One, still climbing,
Catches the afternoon sun
Far above the shimmer of cloud and haze.
The altimeter needle rotates
Around and around the face of its dial
As the navigator puts the plane
On a great circle route
Arcing over the lonely reaches of Texas.

Far below a man on horseback
Looks up at the gleaming silver star
Moving slowly across the heavens,
Unmoved, unknowing, he rides on.

The plane settles down at forty thousand feet,
So high the film of clouds below
Might pass for the ground itself.
Laughing school children cross a busy street
Neither hearing, or heeding
The distant, elusive droning.

Clarsville, Idabel, Horatio, Murfreesburo,
Waldron, Danville, Heber Springs, Rector,
Murray, Bowling Green, Liberty,
All pass in review.

A cold front pushes eastward,
Gentle rain falls, the sky grows dark,
Below, lights are winking on,
Stoves and furnaces are warming up
For winter's call, the day ends.
The plane drones on into the darkness,
Across the American sky, paying out
Famous landmarks in her quick passage.

Mammoth Cave, Booneville, the New River,
Sulphur Springs, Spruce Knob, Shenandoah,
Pass below, in silent, dark review.
Never to know, Never to be met again.
Now the engines throttle down, and
Gently Air Force One returns to the earth,
Circles toward the lights of the National Airport;
The flag-draped casket is made ready,
The young chief has returned home.

 

- Tom Thomson