An Arkansas Airwoman Cheats Her Death | K. T. Slattery

(i)

I am sure I saw you outside of your house-
But memory refuses you any other backdrop,
A never changing world,
Except at Christmas when four angels
Spelling N O E L adorned the never played piano.
Every year the obligatory Christmas visit
Brought three little girls racing in-
To be the first to play the big joke
Switching them round to spell L E O N.
Your stove and refrigerator as old
As your wooden leg
You refused to have refitted.
All the fixtures in your house
Including your hair and wardrobe
Frozen in decades past.

(ii)

A plane fell from the sky
Crashing through the Live Oaks
Adorning itself with their Spanish Moss
So it hung like tinsel from the wreckage.
Gators scrambled away from the impact
A propeller gradually slowed
Until the words Banks-Maxwell
Revealed themselves upside down.
For four long days the propeller stood still.
You kept your life, but lost your leg
And with it your spirit.

(iii)

When you put on your old jazz records
Did you imagine yourself whole again?
A woman who saw U-boats in the Gulf of Mexico
From a cargo ship bound for South America
Beheld the birth of jazz
Saw Satchmo’s cheeks puffed out like two Frigate birds
Accomplished pilot
Training the men deemed worthy to join the cause.

 

Unsung, you sacrificed your leg and more-
Then returned to Arkansas
To a piano that never made music
In a house where time stood still.


Writer’s Commentary

From the moment I started writing, I have wanted to compose something that pays tribute to my great aunt, Adele Thorell – a woman who was ahead of her time and witnessed so much history first-hand. I remember a woman who listened to jazz incessantly and never left Stuttgart, Arkansas. However, she was so much more than this. Attending Tulane- she was in New Orleans for the birth of jazz. Whilst travelling to see her brother in South America, she and her parents were forced to stay below deck for most of the trip when U-boats were spotted in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, an accomplished pilot, she trained fighter pilots during World War II. Her adventures came to an abrupt halt when she crashed in the swamps of New Orleans and lost her leg. She returned to Arkansas and never left again.


K.T. Slattery was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up just across the state line in Mississippi. She attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where she studied English Literature and Philosophy. K.T. now resides on a mountain in the West of Ireland with her husband and an ever increasing amount of rescue pets.

Find her on Twitter at @KTSlattery1

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