2023 Porch Prize Winner in Poetry

We cloverleafed into love:
two pilots, mutually attracted
to hazard, to defying gravity,
to the thrill of a bump
on an airspeed dial—the push
of the needle past Mach one, meaning:
we broke the speed of sound.

When I met you, you were Cowboy.
We looped skies, flew upside down,
belted beneath our glass canopies;
occupying a safe intimacy
of distance. We burned fuel. Always, my
eyes on the ejection handles. “Hand grips
raise,” you’d say. “Triggers squeeze,”
I’d reply—the boldface emergency

procedure for how to escape,
if needed. You were talking strictly
Aerobatics. And sex.
Then, one day, you leave debrief
like a bullet train—fly your long-
bed Ford past dry West Texas
cotton fields, red dust pluming
behind you like contrails—

returning home to feed a quartet
of new-sprung rabbits. Abandoned,
you think, in alfalfa grass. Found,
like a ball of recovered yarn. Tucked

into the corner of an old shoebox
stuffed with socks. The rabbits must
know your call sign has changed.
Now, everyone calls you Mother.

In my squad, they call me Mother,
too. You’ve called the vet, shopped
for three types of milk: condensed,
raw, and goat. Eyedropper in your right
hand, rabbit in left. Five feedings
a day keep them alive. You beat
the dawn. By noon,
you’re back in bed at the rabbits’ side.

Sprawled out, spent. You fade
to nap as sunlight warms
the room. Sated. Content.
Fatigue has won. And one by one,
they crawl inside your flight suit leg,
burrow for warmth. There is so much
power in your hands, holding
throttles, flying three feet from

another jet’s wings, bearing the weight
of Gs, rolling upside-down in aileron rolls.
Your jet’s Talon wings like a knife
slicing the slipstream with afterburner
thrust. Raw. We’re long-distance.
We talk by phone from different homes
and live on separate bases.
“They die at night,” you say, hoping one

will make a fool of odds, disprove
the vet. You wake more often now.
1 a.m., 3 a.m. “A rabbit can startle itself
to death,” you say. A fact I didn’t know.
You pray when drops of milk are all
you have to keep the chubby one alive
for one more day. And that is when I think,
I will. I vow. Marry you, yes. Now,

you hold the spade in your left hand,
rabbit in your right, and dig a little red
clay away—a fourth small grave
in the backyard, near the Bigelow Oak.
Two pilots, two mothers, breath
joined, unaware of the course ahead.
A rehearsal for absences yet to come.
We sojourn through the night.



Laura Joyce-Hubbard’s work appears or is forthcoming in Poetry, The Iowa Review, Sewanee Review, and elsewhere. She won The Iowa Review’s 2022 veteran writing award. Her nonfiction is recognized as Notable in Best American Essays of 2022 and is an AWP nonfiction selection for Intro Awards. A former C-130 pilot, Laura served in the Air Force for twenty years. She lives with her family in Illinois, serves as a fiction editor for TriQuarterly, and is the inaugural Highland Park Poet Laureate.