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The Zero Pilot

April 2004, no. 260

The Zero Pilot

April 2004, no. 260

On the Hiryu, Hajime Toyoshima

Starred in the group photos like Andy Hardy,

He was so small and cute.

His face, as friendly as his first name

(In Japanese you say hajime at first meeting),

Could have been chirping: ‘Hey, why don’t we

Put the show on right here in the barn?’

After Pearl Harbor he was one of the great ship’s heroes

And the attack on Darwin promised him yet more glory,

But his engine conked out over Melville Island

From one lousy rifle bullet in the oil system.

Caught by natives, he should have done it then,

If not beforehand when the prop stopped turning.

Instead of hitting the silk

He could have nosed over and dived into the ground

But he didn’t. When the natives closed in

He could have shot himself with his .32

But he didn’t do that either.

Under interrogation he was offered chocolate

Which he ate instead of turning down.

What was he thinking?

He didn’t get it done

Until a full two and a half years later –

After the Cowra breakout, which he helped

To lead, madly blowing a stolen bugle,

Psyched up to guide his party of frantic runners

All the way to Japan. Upon recapture

He finally did it with a carving knife,

Sawing at his own throat as if to cancel

That sweet, rich taste of surrender,

The swallowed chocolate. His ruined Zero

Is on display in Darwin. The empty bulkhead

Is torn like silver paper where the engine raged

That once propelled him through the startled sky

At a rate of roll unknown to Kittyhawks.

Paint, cables, webbing, instruments and guns:

Much else is also missing,

But the real absence is his,

And always was.

Hajime is short for

‘Our acquaintanceship begins:

Until now, we did not know each other.

From this day forth, we will.’

Well, could be,

Though it mightn’t be quite that easy.

Buried at Cowra,

He probably never knew

That the Hiryu went down at Midway,

Where the last of his friends died fighting –

Still missing the cheery voice

Of their mascot, named always to say hello,

Who never said goodbye.

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