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Voice in the Sky
Bob Speer

Two F86’s begin their climb,
Chuck Yeager in one,
in the other…

I’m Jackie from Millville.
Just Jackie,
don’t have no other name
but I hear of some that do
like Woodrow Wilson
and William Howard Taft.
My friend Micky’s got two real names
Michael Latella but everybody don’t
call him anything but “the Mick.”
My foster pa, he’s William Smith,
but she’s “you woman” when
William Smith wants supper
or comfortin’
but mostly she don’t get called nothin’.
My niece is Willi-ma
run together names
but that don’t count for two ’cause William Smith
says she’s a bastard.
Don’t know if I’m a bastard or just a girl
but it don’t matter ’cause
girls and bastards don’t have but one name.

Forty thousand feet takes awhile
for this underpowered jet fighter.

What I remember about Millville is
being hungry and eating pine nuts,
being naked and wearing burlap.
Thank God I don’t have to do that no more
because I got me a real good job
here in Pensacola in this beauty parlor.
There’s some women here
that have two names but
I’m still just Jackie.
Ain’t nobody cares as long as Jackie
does their hair.

The F86’ s level at 40,000 feet;
muscles tense, fingers clench.

I get my last name
when I open a shop of my own.
You need a last name before the bank
gives you a loan.
That’s easy enough to do.
I go through the phonebook as far as the C’s
and like the sound of Cochran.
Jackie Cochran’s Beauty Shop,
now that sure sounds fine.

The rush of air in the descent is
loud and shrill.

I learn to fly when I open
Jacqueline Cochran’s Cosmetics.
Suddenly there’s a war going on and
I fly the Army planes to men
who scramble into combat.
Women Airforce Service Pilots
fight our own war with Army brass
to accept us WASP girls.
It’s okay to risk our lives but
don’t dishonor their name with ours.
Like being just a girl in Millville
all over again.

Throttle jammed hard forward,
ground rushing up as if to smash this plane.

Today my friend Hap Arnold and
Harry Truman himself award me
the Distinguished Service Medal.
Hard to figure, this country giving
its second highest military prize
to Jackie, a non-military pilot.

G force, metal skin buffeting,
pain exploding through crushed organs.

Point eight, point nine, nine one, nine five
Mach one!
Shock waves like rain.
The first woman to break the sound barrier.

Not bad for a girl with one name.

Bob Speer’s Voice in the Sky was the first-place winner in International Icarus’s 1999 Literary Competition, set on the theme Women in Aviation. Dedicated to celebrating flight through the visual, literary and performing arts, International Icarus is sponsoring a decade’s worth of programs marking the centennial of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight, which took place December 17, 1903. Icarus publishes an annual literary journal and hosts a spectacular yearly art show that draws entries from around the world.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: visit the Icarus International website at

A Monumental Undertaking / Dubious Honors

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