Randall Jarrell
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
 
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State 
 
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.  
 
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,  
 
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.  
 
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.  
 

Background
 
Jarrell provided the following note about the poem:
"A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24 bomber and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short, small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine-guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved the turret; hunched upside-down in his little sphere, he looked like the fetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with canon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."

About the Poem

 
This five-line poem, published in 1945, is about a gunner in a ball turret on an American bomber aircraft in World War II. The gunner was killed in the ball turret and his body was hosed out without any ceremony. The moment was cruel but quite common in the war. The whole process is actually a metaphor for abortion. The gunner in the small space in the ball turret is just like a baby in a mother's womb. During the abortion, the baby's remains are impersonally hosed out and dispose of, just like the dead gunner's. They are so innocent, but their lives are cruelly robbed, and nobody even cares what their names are. Jarrell intentionally made the poem both unpleasant and impossible to forget, and he successfully achieved that.

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