Measure My Song


“The Air Force recognizes that some individuals may feel that they have experienced a reduction in quality of life; however, impacts to quality of life are not possible to quantify, since any potential measurement would be based on a set of subjective experiences that are highly variable among individuals.”

2013 Revised Draft of F-35 Basing Environmental Impact Statement

Out in the garden we’re tying twine
for the tomato vines to climb up
out of sawn-off milk jugs,
little makeshift greenhouses
for the cold spring.

It’s one of those clear mornings
the Falcons seem to flock to,
as if preparing for desert skies,
or—on a joyride—for F-35s
two years down the road
and four times louder and harder to fly.
Surely they won’t fly.

From beneath the power lines
we crane to see them,
small as deer flies, following the sound
they shed like a chrysalis—
there they are, two of them,
peeling off from each other,
splitting the sky.


After a minute the worst has passed,
like a contraction,
and bracing for the next
I think of Leo Lionni’s worm
inching away from the nightingale
to measure the threat of its song.

I wonder how birds cope,
if they ever crash-land like whales
deafened by sonic booms
the Navy uses to train its ears             
to pick up the subtlest
whispers from the quietest submarines—
or if it’s so outside the birds’ experience
their senses can’t take it in.

For me, it’s the opposite: that raw
sheering thrust of power          
jangles me until I’m
any civilian cowering anywhere,
hands pressed to my ears         
only making the pulse of terror
more interior.


When I take my hands away
there’s nothing subtle or new
in the stillness—a few bird twitters,
my breath, roots underfoot—
but an inner prompt.

Dear Lieutenant Colonel
(the double title
raising the specter of Heller’s
catch: if you protest
you protest too much,
but still I place my stone
on the grave of objection)                   
even the F-16s are too loud.

Dear Liberal Poet, he writes back        
graciously that evening,
I will pass your note on—
right now I’m in the airport
welcoming home a young man
from his tour in Afghanistan.

After the boom subsides
I can hear it, the distancing
rustle of the inchworm.


Rebecca Starks

Rebecca Starks is a freelance editor, a teacher of lifelong learners, a director of the Burlington Writers Workshop, and a co-founder of Mud Season Review. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in Baltimore Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ocean State Review, Slice Literary, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her poem “Open Carry” won Rattle’s 2018 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor, and her manuscript Thrown was a finalist for the Ashland Poetry Press 2018 Richard Snyder Prize.