Winner of the 2014 Neil Shepard Prize in Poetry

He changes into his flight suit,
goes to war each morning—
just a twenty-minute drive
from Vegas, his wife and kids.
He doesn’t talk much about the base,
the windowless days, trapped
smells of coffee, candy, sweat.
In a darkened room: six glowing
screens, joystick, throttle,
the padded chair. He rubs his neck
as if to unknot dangers
he knows can’t ever reach him.
Sometimes he holds his breath
as he centers the crosshairs over
a rooftop, waits for the countdown,
for the missile to hit, the smoke
to spew, keep spewing. The AC
hums. The chair tilts back. With hands
at rest on the metal console,
cold switches, he feels the risks
of striking a child or a good guy.
For a moment, he closes his eyes,
pictures the concrete rubble crushing
his own body, his face. Shift in,
shift out, no logging off,
no putting the power to sleep.
                                                     No
putting the power to sleep, no logging
off. Shift in, shift out, rubble
crushing his own body, his face.
The concrete pictures—he closes
his eyes. For a moment, he feels
the risks of striking a child
or a good guy with hands at rest.
On the metal console, cold switches.
The chair tilts back. The AC hums:
keep spewing. For the missile to hit,
the smoke to spew, the countdown
waits. As he centers the crosshairs
over a rooftop, dangers he knows
can’t ever reach him, he holds
his breath. Sometimes he rubs his neck
as if to unknot the padded chair,
six glowing screens, joystick,
throttle, sweat. In a darkened room,
trapped smells of coffee,
candy, the windowless days,
the base. He doesn’t talk much
about his wife and kids, Vegas
just a twenty-minute drive
each morning. He goes to war,
changes into his flight suit.

 

Christine Rhein’s first collection, Wild Flight, is a winner of the Walt McDonald Poetry Prize (Texas Tech University Press, 2008). Her poems have appeared in journals includingThe Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review, and have been selected forPoetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best New Poets. A former automotive engineer, Christine lives in Brighton, Michigan. “Drone Pilot” is part of a new poetry manuscript in circulation. (www.ChristineRhein.com)