Twelve O’Clock High, 1965
Late to the briefing as usual, Peter Fonda fumbles
the last folding chair into place, General Savage
staring darts from the podium, a map of France
huge behind him. Fonda plays Lathrup, a born
bombardier who no doubt pondered snail darters
from the creek bank behind the cabin he eulogizes
in Act Two as he falls in love with Mary, the pub girl
who’ll say with dewy eyes & shy smile in Act Three
yes, yes she’ll marry him & live after the war
in Tennessee where it’s spring the year round.
Fonda frets, broods, fails to drop a load,
goes AWOL, careens a Jeep down Mary’s street
as the Luftwaffe turns London into rubble
where the girl lies crushed in a cellar now open
to the sky. Lathrup finds her, kneels, strokes her hair
& as Savage scrabbles up beside him, sublimely condemns
the price of a duty no longer his. How many dead
beneath clouds he’d thought beautiful? Savage knows
the boy’s pain—“Lieutenant” his dead love called him,
the British “f” in “Lieu” heartbreaking now—
but those bombs they drop on the Ruhr Valley
each night mean the quicker end of pain.
They hold one another’s gaze through the fade.
As the epilogue opens, Lathrup lopes in late & rattles
a chair into place as Savage bestows a fatherly smile
from the podium, the air group’s best bombardier
having chosen necessity & recovered his Tennessee
charm so we could take a last sip of milk & sleep.