On the DVD of Ferlingetti: A Rebirth of Wonder there is a bonus track of the poet reading “History of Airplanes”. He is wearing a leather aviator cap and goggles. The performance is disarming. He looks goofy and the viewer smiles as the poem begins with the Wright brothers hoping the invention of aviation would lead to peace. And on the poem goes and the historical examples accumulate until you think this is just another recitation by a peacenik, harmless commentary. Sentimental in a Charlie Chaplin fashion.
The poem ends with the Third World striking back and America becoming “a part / of the scorched earth of the world”. And on the screen we see smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers.
And a wind of ashes blows across the land
And for one long moment in eternity
There is chaos and despair
And buried loves and voices
Cries and whispers
Fill the air
Note: it’s not “a history”, it is simply “history” as if there were only one. The grand gesture is founded in the title. And it is this sweep that generates a tone of patriotic sentimentality. Nonetheless, I find this an effective poem. I like how it builds. The examples of “man-made birds” cumulate and a warning is sounded:
And so then clever men built bigger and faster flying machines and
these great man-made birds with jet plumage flew higher than any
real birds and seemed about to fly into the sun and melt their wings
and like Icarus crash to earth
The stanzas are knit together by the bootless search for the doves of peace. None to be found.
The lines lengthen, stanza by stanza, until the ending quoted above where they return as simple shortened descriptions that stand alone without commentary. All the commentary has proceeded and the poet knows when to pull back. What remains for the imagination to contemplate is the notion that history could have been otherwise, if men had been but wise and humans alive to the dangers of exceptionalism and subsuming all histories under the one history.
And so for day 1049