A Poem Dedicated to Betty Gillies
On Wings of Gold
Fog shrouds the wings; dawn, but a shard of light.
Twin engines labor, eager to unbridle the horses.
Toes, hard on brakes, check the trembling aircraft.
From the tower, “Cleared for takeoff.”
Brakes off. Throttle to the firewall.
Spine thrust back against the seat.
Rolling, rumbling, reaching,
Wheels eat up runway. Lift.
Ease yoke back. Climb!
Eyes on instruments. Don’t look out!
The Pacific, invisible, lies below.
Altimeter reads seven…eight…nine hundred feet…
A shock of blue—a cloudless sky.
Execute a 180, bearing due east.
Sunrays strike silver wings, turning them gold.
Oh to pull over, stop in mid air, drink it all in!
Below, murky black stuff;
Ahead, two snow-covered peaks,
Sunlight rising through the pass between them.
Above it all, a sleek P-38 flies on wings of gold.
© 2016 Sarah Byrn Rickman
This poem is inspired by, and dedicated to, Betty Huyler Gillies, second in command, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, 1942-1944. In an oral history recorded in 1996, Betty used some of these words to describe her first flight in a P-38 twin-engine pursuit aircraft that she ferried from Long Beach, California to Newark, New Jersey.
Betty is the subject of my newest book: