Saturday, April 5, 2014

             Condition Zebra


Tell us again how the power of ten

Bellows the fire-seed and kindles the ken.


“Set Condition Zebra!” he heard the man

The Captain scream, aboard the U.S.S.

WASP, CVS-18: an Essex class

Aircraft-carrier, now mostly sub-hunter—

It would also recover manned space-flights

Back in ’66, round the same time word

Came down to mount the chiaroscuro horse.


Acoustic signatures below crush-depth

Had sounded the initial alarum,

But now something had brought down the lookouts

From the towers: three visual-contacts

Were spotted hovering in the distance

Out in the middle of the Atlantic

Talk of impossible redirections.


Muttonchops saw and heard all this transpire

From his position at the co-plot board;

An E-3 Petty-Officer First-Class,

Muttonchops (one of the “Admiral’s Staff”

In less eerie times on another ship)

Muttonchops was there to hear when Captain

Gillhouly sounded “General Quarters.”


Somewhat out of protocol, Muttonchops

Quickly turned to the portside of the Bridge

And tersely swung around the alidade

Onto the moving lights emanating

From the horizon’s face, as if to make

Some calculation or take measurement

Of an event beyond comprehension.


They illumined the ocean beneath them.

Color became something of a question.

For a moment, Muttonchops was neither

Here nor there. Ions seemed to charge the air

That swirled around the NAVY ship, equipped

For far much less than this. Now Muttonchops

Makes for the helm and puts on his hard-hat!



“Set Condition Zebra!” he heard the man

The Captain scream, aboard the U.S.S.

WASP, CVS-18. Gillhouly’s play

Was to send out two CH-53

Helicopters (Sea-Stallions, they call ’em).

Gillhouly ordered two Sea-Stallions ride

Into the lights that had troubled their sleep.


As when a smoker finishes her butt

Down to the filter, then cocks a finger

And flicks it a-flight, mirthfully firing

Spent embers to the night, so too did these

Lights look as they ascended from the fray,

Massy, large and round, then winking to nill

In quite psychedelic changes of scale.


The hooves of the Stallions chopped at the air

Abashedly, as they made their return

From their useless charge into the margins

Of science and the known world. Gillhouly

Banished the Quartermaster from the Bridge

And intended a gap in the ship’s log,

When he called the pilots over to him.


“Did you see anything?” he demanded

Of the near-catatonic pilots. One

Lowed: “We got close enough to see markings.”

Positioned in the helm, Muttonchops was

Near enough to hear their conversation

And forever inscribed hieroglyphics 

Of his own, demarcating spectacles.


Were these as those seen by the Genoese

From the decks of the Santa Maria

The night before landfall, ‘wax-candle flames

Flickering’? Or that which on November

Eleventh, ’72, evaded

Norwegian torpedoes and depth-charges

For two weeks, escaping the Sögnefjord?


Muttonchops steamed ahead to Rhoda, Spain,

Leaving cigar-shaped thoughts in the ship’s wake.


Perhaps this is all very credible . . .

I have it by word from the principal.

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