Night Witches

(For the female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Forces who fought against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war.)

We were guardians.

40, 41, 42 bullet holes studded

in the plane, in the map, in my helmet.

How did we survive

if not by magic?

We didn’t paint flowers but symbols.

We didn’t use paint, only

monthly blood.

Just a map and a compass to divine

our enemies’ location. No parachutes

or broomsticks, only propellers

like boiling rattle snake tails.

On the ground, our sisters lit paper planes

to protect us from machine guns

and bombshells. In men’s uniforms

we flew through fire.

Bernadette McComish earned an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence, and an M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language from Hunter. She writes poems that explore parallel realms where fortunetellers give base advice from behind cash registers, and addicts ride subways underwater reciting Shakespeare. Her poems have appeared in The Cortland Review, Sunday Salon, Hakol, Hospital Drive, Slipstream, Storyscape, and she was a finalist for the New Millennium Writers 41st poetry prize. Her collection The Book of Johns, is forthcoming. She teaches High School in Los Angeles, and performs with the Poetry Brothel curing one John at a time with words and glitter.