Murdering Carole Lombard

(Actress Carole Lombard died in the crash of TWA Flight 3 on January 16, 1942; she had
earlier used her clout to bump another passenger from the flight.)
It’s not a story a fellow tells if it’s true
Though there is a nugget of truth in it
was in Nevada that Friday afternoon
In Carson City—merely a short flight
Of fancy down to the Las Vegas airport
Then another jaunt to book a reservation
And soon enough I see myself settled
Third row, aisle—Uncle Sam earplugs
Black coffee, Old Golds—nearly dozing
When Miss Lombard routs the airline
Crew and stampedes the cabin, gabbing
Rather madcap like in My Man Godfrey
A maelstrom of carpet bags, hatboxes.
She’s playful, chirpy, but pushy as sin,
As though I wasn’t doing my own part
For the war effort, but what’s an army
Doc compared with Hollywood royalty
So I’m off the plane, raging I’ll write
To Mr. Howard Hughes personally, to
General MacArthur, Secretary Stimson:
For hours I’m fuming at a dead woman. 

That’s how I tell my story—at weddings,
Surgical shindigs, glad to confab across
Armrests on those sleek-bodied 707 jets
And de Havilland Comets that grounded
The last Douglas DC-3s. Ever heard of
A comedienne named Carole Lombard?
Mrs. Clark Gable? Well, I killed her—
More or less. Fifteen minutes of fame,
They say. If I wasn’t that traveler then,
I tell myself, I’m as much the fellow now
As anyone. More so from years of practice.
Time and tide dare not claim otherwise.

And then one layover in Dallas, delayed
While Delta searches for a part, I impart
My story one last time while chin-wagging
With a pair of pharma reps from Pittsburgh
Too young to recognize Lombard’s name.
My voice must carry, because he’s twenty
Yards away, burly with a graying buzz-cut,
And he eyes me like I’m sitting in his chair.
I let my story drift away as he approaches,
And somehow I know where this man sat
One Friday in 1942. “Row three on the aisle,”
Is what he says, without humor or menace,
As though he’s waited a lifetime to say it.
“You should’ve fought harder for that seat.”