Questions for Reflection: “The Death of Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell
The poem, “The Death of Ball Turret Gunner,” was written by Randall Jarrell. According to Jarrell’s own notes “a ball turret was a plexiglas 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 foetus in the womb. The fighters which attacked him were armed with canon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."
“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 the 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.
1. How is the whole of one man’s life summed up in this poem?
2. What is the similarity of being in the ball turret to being in a womb?
3. How does the “waking” in the poem refer to death? How might this death by unnatural?
4. Why is this poem so memorable?