The Darter refused to sink, my father said
Almost to himself, gluing together
The toy submarine I’d sent away for.
I looked at him; he kept his gaze on the pieces.
We were out on patrol, the two of us,
Up off the northeast coast of Australia.
Guess what we find? I shook my head, leaning
Closer—he’d never spoken of the war.
The main fleet of the Japanese Navy.
He dabbed at some glue with a cloth. That shocks
Us and the bad guys; we’ve been searching
For that fleet a long while. In my mind
An ocean glinted: metal wedges spiked
With guns. I asked what happened. We both fire
Our torpedoes, then scramble out of there.
At least we try to. All those ships coming
After us, and you know what? The Darter,
Our sister boat, runs aground.
The sound of iron scraping over reefs
Raised goose bumps down my back. Dad blew
On a seam to make it dry. Of course my sub,
The Dace, has to turn around and rescue
The stranded crew. The enemy’s getting nearer
As we get the guys aboard. But we can’t leave yet.
I asked why not. Secrets, he said;
A submarine is packed with secrets. We need
To take a ton of records off that boat.
I said that that must be when the Dace escaped.
Attaching the conning tower, Dad grimaced:
Nope. You know what’s a sub’s biggest secret?
He tilted the vessel slightly. The sub itself.
We can’t let the Darter be captured intact,
So we have to sink it. We start with this:
He tapped the plastic deck gun with his finger.
But that just raises little puffs of dust
Here and here and here, he poked the hull.
He tapped it some more, a sort of Morse code,
Then turned the toy till the bow pointed at me. So we shoot torpedoes at it. I saw
The blurry white of their contrails streak away.
Grinning, I said those “fish” blew up the Darter.
We see some plumes of water and think that, too.
But when the mist clears, damn sub’s still there.
The enemy destroyers are nearly here.
He spun the toy’s propeller. Time to leave.
So that was when the Darter got captured, I said,
Imagining a boarding party sloshing
Like acid through its metal corridors,
Dissolving the secret stuff that Dad had known.
His square of sandpaper rubbed and smoothed
The back fins. Not exactly. The Japs send
A plane in low and drop a bomb on it.
He gave a shrug that left his eyebrows raised.
You could say the enemy does our job for us.
I nodded, said it was too bad the Darter
Got all blown up. My father blew away
The fine grit his sanding had scoured loose.
Mmm-hmm, except the Zero pilot’s aim
Is a bit shy. The blast bangs up the sub
Without destroying it. Lifting the toy
To the kitchen light, Dad shut one green eye
And sighted along its length. A tough sewer pipe.
He looked at me. You know what finally happens?
His breath eased in and out. The war ends,
We go home, the years sail by—but the Darter
Stays stuck on that reef. With a smile brief
As a splash, he held the sub out to me.
Now kids play on it, jumping into the sea.
I carefully took the boat. When he placed his hand
On my shoulder, I saw explosions of water:
I saw those children climb the torn hull,
Laughing and calling inside the empty dark.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 26 Number 8, on page 32
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