The smoldering chunks of raw, black-encrusted meat
lie scattered abstractly about the ground,
disturbingly protruding here and there
from beneath shattered shards of bright metal
that were once the wings of an aircraft,
now unrecognizable with no piece larger
than several feet across.
It could be an impromptu barbeque
among the shattered trees and volcanic ground,
held in a crazy scrap-metal yard, the steer already
sliced into bite-sized chunks, seared
black and smoking by glowing coals, then tossed
randomly about the area.
The landscape is bizarre,
a lunar field of utter, lifeless alien devastation.
No recognizable unifying element to draw
it all together in sensible context,
save the smoke, the clouds of greasy roiling
smoke that hang over the violated ground
like a shroud of vapor from Hell.
Bereft of any human connectivity,
there is not even the smallest comfort to be taken
from the black anonymity of it all,
the vast and indefinable dread smothering all else,
as one steels the nerves for that first
encounter with a recognizable bit of human flesh.
Worst is the terrible warning that the senses
prompt for what lies just ahead, for it comes
in the slightly sweetish scent that permeates
every molecule of air about the chaotic setting,
violating any human ability to comprehend.
A brief hope for merciful dispensation from ragged shock
instantly falls away, like the worst departing nightmare
of childhood dreaming, as the immensity
of what has happened gradually sinks in.
A curious, charcoal colored parody
of a large children’s doll comes into view,
with burnt stumps of anthracite instead of hands.
Beneath the charred outer layer
pale flesh is split, revealing blood red juices,
of overly cooked meat and waves of streaming vapor.
The stick arms grope outwards, bereft of fingers,
screaming infinity, forever fixed and frozen,
for something may only be wondered at by the living.
Later, much later, recovery crews depart,
some will eat their meals, hug their own children
and go to bed, sleeping a deep, untroubled narcosis
that mimics death. Others, shown more starkly
that brief and narrow thread of human life
revealed for the terrible, fragile thing
it truly is, shall toss and turn,
plagued by that ultimate, undeniable knowledge
so often concealed from us
until that last moment of life awaiting all.
The last thought lingers, as night enfolds all,
that in the morning, hopefully all will be revealed
as a vague mix of post-prandial discomfiture,
merely a terrible phantom of unfettered digestive
imagining, perhaps a fragment of incompletely cooked pizza, dripping with gastric juices….and smoking…?
Then grim fact regains the upper hand, iterating
that the scenario is real, all too unshakably genuine,
having formulated itself from countless indelible
impressions, sunk deep in the subconscious
memory from moments of past experience
grappling with this terrible proof of our mortality,
replaying over and over, like a cockpit voice
recorder tape of the mind post mortem dialogues,
each time an aircraft carrying others like yourself
becomes a parody of barbeque, Texas-style,
on some desolate plot of ground,
the nauseous, sickening aroma of sizzling,
raw meat rising like a vengeful wraith
in the weak light of tepid dawn
on Hell’s threshold.
(written in the early 1980s)