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An Airport Built of Bamboo

(for Barbara Deyell of ‘Windsong’)
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We gathered ourselves at the airport,
(An airport built of bamboo),
The great and the good and the curious,
And those not sure it was true;
The doctor was there with his patient
And the mask of his face said it all,
(The tiny plane parked on the runway,
The customs, a hole in a wall);
And the dogs ran in circles around us
And the cats in their cages mewed,
And somebody pestered a helper,
Who answered with something rude,
And Barbara’s maid was weeping,
And others began to cry,
And people around me grew hazy,
(I’d must have got grit in my eye),
And our big dog nuzzled my fingers,
And I somehow knew that he knew,
So I edged with him closer towards her,
And then didn’t know what to do
Or to say, so I kissed her lightly,
While my big dog nudged her thigh,
And she patted his head and scratched him
With a nod and a watery eye;
And then, Marie-France and the ladies
And Stan and a dozen more,
Were saying their own ‘get betters’
While most of us stared at the floor
Or stood by the fence with the pilot,
Who murmured, ‘Make way there, please,’
(He’s a good man is that pilot),
Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze
And led them out to the apron—
It was all going by in a blur—
Barbara, her pets and her daughter,
And I felt like a damn voyeur
As they lifted her into the cabin,
As gently as ever they could,
And I though she mouthed, ‘I’ll see ya!’

(Though I knew that we never would),
And the pilot started the engines,
And somebody mumbled a prayer,
So I followed Jeannette and the others
Who were clambering up the stair
To the old, familiar platform,
Where we stood in a ragged line,
And waved in the Mustique fashion,
As the engines grew from a whine
To a roar, and thundered towards us,
And she took to the sky like a bird;
Our arms dropped down from waving,
And nobody said a word,
As we shuffled across the concourse,
A solemn and silent crew
Who knew she was never returning
To an airport built of bamboo.

Word came a week or so later:
She had passed; but we shall not dwell
On her passing, for that is a journey
That none return to tell;
I know nothing of what comes after,
Nothing of heaven or God,
But I know that our old friend Barbara
Was Queen of the Awkward Squad;
She was tiny and brusque and clever,
And she cussed and was given to scold,
She never did suffer fools gladly,
But her heart was beaten gold;
And her frail frame hid a secret,
That beneath her crackling laugh,
There was kindness wrapped in a blanket,
And softness wrapped in chaff;
There was no better friend than Barbara,
As the luckiest of us knew,
When we gathered ourselves at the airport,
(An airport, built of bamboo).