This poem came out of a conversation with viva_la_topknot and some other folks about handicapped characters in comic books and other contexts. We got to talking about how handicapped characters are usually not frontline combatants. But what if they were ...? And so began the Clockwork War series, of which this is the first poem, sponsored here by viva_la_topknot.
Note: Several of my readers pointed out the similarity to the historic figure Douglas Bader. I didn't know about him when I wrote this poem, but the parallels are striking.
A war of attrition
depends on supply and drawdown,
how much you have and how much you use up.
With personnel, the balance concerns
the influx of recruitment versus
the outflow of casualties, deserters, invalids.
There is only so much loss
that a fighting force can sustain
and still fight.
Pilot Claude Archer was the first
to challenge his invalid discharge.
"I don't need legs to fly," he said,
patting the healed stumps of his thighs.
"My Osprey runs on elbow grease."
The members of the discharge board
paused and looked at each other.
What he said was true.
The Osprey-class fighter jets
relied on hand controls,
and a sharp eye and iron nerve.
Fingers flicked through the stack
of discharge papers -- so many, many pages.
So many soldiers lost, never to fight again.
They could not afford to let slip even one
who might be retained, somehow,
to face the front line once more.
Far less could the war effort spare
one of its best pilots.
So they put Pilot Archer back on the roster,
and he set about making the adjustments.
He spent hours in the simulator, relearning
balance and shift and control.
Arms honed from flying the Osprey
made short work of the wheelchair,
and he made his morning laps in a whir of spokes.
On the weekend, he chucked the chair by a bench
and dragged himself through the obstacle course
hand-over-hand and belly-crawl and roll.
When the botflies attacked in mechanized swarms,
their flight giving off an evil whine,
Pilot Archer rose on wings of stern blued steel
and shot them down in a rain of white-hot debris.
The ground crew held him on their shoulders
while he stenciled a row of fresh silhouettes
onto the Osprey's fuselage
with his strong, rock-steady hands.