STARS AT NOON: Poems from the Life of Jacqueline Cochran
(University of Arkansas Press, 2001)
Enid Shomer's Stars at Noon is the book to give to the next person you encounter who complains that contemporary American verse is self-obsessed. The collection, Shomer's fourth, is made up of six sequences of dramatic poems that resurrect Jacqueline Cochran, America's second lady of the air- second only to her friend, Amelia Earhart.... Her resumé included founding and operating a cosmetics business, serving as a roving journalist after the war, and running for U.S. Congress. Mindful of her unlikely beginnings (a foundling, she received only three years of schooling), Cochran described her life as a journey "from sawdust to stardust." Shomer traces that trajectory keenly and engagingly, writing in a variety of voices that summon up an era as well as a life.
Working from her subject's archived papers, Shomer narrates Cochran's childhood indirectly, using the device of letters (one from the mother who abandoned her, three from teachers). By age seventeen, the girl has become a mechanic and a hairdresser who envisions going into business under the trademark "Jacqueline Cochran, Cosmetiste/Engine Valves Ground and Pincurls Set/with the Same Twist of the Wrist" ("The Death of Bessie Mae Pittman"). Her character unfolds in poems about love and flight, then deepens in those in which she speaks of the war, Earhart's disappearance, another colleague's death, and her own miscarriages. Some of the most sardonic and entertaining poems treat her foray into postwar politics.
"...Cochran's life merits attention, and Shomer summons up that life adroitly, throwing her voice with a ventriloquists' savoir faire and picking her moments with a playwright's sense of drama. Her wit and skill as a versifier buoy these monologues and dialogues....From conception to execution, Stars at Noon is a smart, versatile collection."
"How refreshing it is, when so many books of poetry seem interchangeable, to come across Enid Shomer's marvelous sequence,Stars at Noon. Jacqueline Cochran's life was an astonishing one, and it is evoked by Shomer with deftness and empathy. As a work of visionary hagiography, it is comparable to Robert Penn Warren's great Audubon poem. In some alternate universe, where poetry is afforded the respect it should have, Stars at Noon would be an enormous (and deserved) popular success."
"These poems are poignant, witty, and well-turned. This book not only makes a major contribution to the annals of women and the turbulent era Cochran lived in, but because it is immensely readable, it may break the sound barrier between historical facts and passionate feelings."
"Jaunty, audacious, tough-and filled with soul, Enid Shomer's Stars at Noon recreates an American life. Like the subject of her book, Shomer's poetry flies, whipsaws, and is in love with words."
THE WORLD GOES BLACK
Flight attaining Mach 1, Edwards Air Force Base, California, June 1953
How featureless the earth
as it recedes, each green
valley and hill devoid of curves
and definition, settling
into swirls of rubbed pastels,
the salt flats below me
ridged like a tidal sea
and the sea with its rolling feathers
All around me, sky
streams past, long blue
corridor to the night. Huge clouds
stretch from horse heads
to a kind of history,
another world curled
in their roiling manes.
Today I thank God for my hands,
so big they attract stares
even manicured, nails short
as a general’s patience.
Big fidgety anchors, Mama laughed,
Keep them in your lap!
They seem enlarged, the Army doctor
wrote, by some crushing
physical task. “Like shucking
oysters?” I saluted him
so they dwarfed my cap.
I’ve tried dark gloves so women
wouldn’t notice. It made things
worse when I took them off.
In WASP dress white gloves,
clown hands waved.
They should see my feet.
Dive from 45,000 Feet
Swathed in silence I drop,
the bones of my skull
thrumming against my brain.
Time is like an elastic band
the way it stretches and zings
back. My audience with the Holy Father--
four minutes, his chamberlain warned--
stretched into twenty-eight, passing
in one quick exhilarated gasp
while these forty-five seconds
slowed to cold molasses, time
enough to review a parade
of my life, catch destiny
waiting outside my cockpit
for one mistake, red-eyed
as the eject button. I fasten on
the machmeter, the needle
approaching and approaching,
like a body forging toward pleasure,
that point when I begin to beg
when nothing else matters
and the world goes black
as the world of the blind where touch
is everything, the only thing,
the thing next to holy