Every time a rocket launches and lands somewhere in the world it makes me think of Tommy Dorsey. Our friend Janet Bowdan offers this poem:
starring Tommy Dorsey and his boys
as they play the Hawaiian war dance circa 1942, Ship Ahoy. What
makes it Hawaiian? you ask:
why, they’re all wearing plastic leis.
The dancer is called into an office, told
she’s the only one brave enough
clever enough and ingenious
enough to carry it through; he guarantees
protection—then we see the Japanese agent.
Oh, these silly old films. Easy now
to recognize the cobbled-together patriotism,
the fear or rage or blind bias
that could bring FDR to sign Executive Order 9066,
calling it a military necessity
to imprison Japanese Americans.
Now back to the movie! our heroes,
the real government operatives, show their papers
to the captain, get instant access to all information
on passengers and crew, unlock and explore cabins,
open cases. It is War, you know. If they could bug
the phones they would, but instead the dancer
warns her audience in Morse code, shoes tapping,
and realizing her aim, the receiver writes it out
faster than it’s danced—oops.
Maybe we’re projecting too much, early guesses
to predict the trajectory our fears take.
Ezra Pound is broadcasting for Mussolini,
radio waves going out: “Well, the Fuehrer,
Adolf Hitler, he did something about it while I
was listening and looking. There are different degrees
of efficiency.” Radio waves coming in,
the U.S. government recording what he says,
May 18, 1942, getting ready for the court-martial
to come. They’ll put him in a cage exposed to the elements for 3 weeks, waiting
to take him to trial 6 months away.
You could say it rains on the just and the unjust.
You could say collateral damage
but why didn’t they bomb the railway lines?
You could say the ends justify the means
or reject it, say better the guilty escape
than the innocent be punished, better
a little gentle mercy. We’re back to weighing
a pound of flesh or equally horrifying alternatives.
Where are the dancers? Where are the plastic leis?