Three Poems by Daniel Nester

Rescuing Bobby Brady from a Disaster Movie

The Towering Inferno (1974)


Before the skyscraper erupts,
his mother wipes his front choppers
clean, consoles him in the smoky den—    

a paper napkin, a private moment
drying off his signature striped shirt.
Leo Buscaglia wants to hug him tonight.

San Francisco’s emergency brakes
lean in salute. Celluloid second-stringers
feed him sushi on shiny caterer plates.     

They simply adore him. Machine fetishist
and architect Paul Newman, a towering inferno
of love, makes his speech—

“We got a fire here!” He guilt-trips
everyone into adolescence. Even the mayor
remembers dry outfield grass

 scalded in August by a brush fire,
his hands dowsed with gasoline.
“Don’t look down! Trust me!”

Bobby’s suckling parched mouth is speechless.
“You’re the man now, you take care
of these ladies.” Paul’s prime mover

monologue helps emergency
reunions along. Drown the building
from top to bottom with water, the fire

will go away, he says. We’ll all get wet,
the world finally sexy. We’ll explode
among phallic obelisks. Only fireman

Steve McQueen protests:  “We tell ya don’t,
but you keep buildin’ ’em higher.”
“Trust me, hold on!” Paul says. Fly

solo, away from your brothers. Be
a single point of action. Extinguish
your fear. “Don’t look down! Take my hand!”

On the 86th floor, a charred child star
screeches, drops into a rescue net,
rushes to relatives, crying, embracing.

Hold on. I’m almost there.


Jack Lemmon Rewinds His Misanthropic Dialogue from a Disaster Movie

Airport ’77 (1977)


Hold on. I’m almost there, 
where the explosion happened. Just then,
Brenda Vacarro screamed, her nude panty hose

sheened and wet and engulfed my face.
All this before the plane crashed
into the sea. I was the easy chair beside her,

cradling the helpless girl twins,
the plane submerging beneath the water. 
I smelled females’ fear.

I was the captain, dammit. I shouted
to quiet everyone. I took the bull by the horns,
every woman hysterical. “Don’t leave me,”

one says. “You’re supposed to take care of me.”
“What’s going to happen to me?”
She gave me her panty hose for a tourniquet.

A man was bleeding to death.
“Is daddy going to die?” I grabbed
my ex-lover’s face like a deflated beachball.

A search in the back and...
Oh my God—a cut wire, sabotage
on top of all this: water rising

and a drowned waiter, floating
beside the tray of hors d’oeuvres.
There’s a singing blind guy in a turtleneck

who appears in all of these movies:
sideburns, sweaty with a wide tie.
I slap my head against the steamy hull.

Blue-gray sea lopes and rises
in the cabin windows. “Any increase
in water pressure could crush this fuselage   

like an empty beer can.”


Gleaning Dean Martin’s Chivalric Role in a Disaster Movie

Airport (1975)


Like an empty beer can, The Golden Argosy,
gate 28, flight 43, is stuck in obscure skies,
tries to crash land in a stewardess’ skirt,

carrying another passenger. A stowaway,
Dean sits in his cockpit, a drunken dinosaur,
a tractor trailer jackknifed. For this pilot, the routine

is to see people die, an all-star cast survive.
Some joyous Marxist watches bourgeoisie die
in the snow. Everyone busts out formal duds: 

Burt Lancaster’s tux, Dean’s uptown doorman pilot get-up.
An angry wife always follows emergencies.
“You’ve always got some damn excuse.”

Dean Martin is the pilot. He busts Burt’s balls.
Leaves no prisoners. Well all right daddy, tell me
about when you were a war hero...

The funky stewardess, Jacquie Bisset, is knocked up.
The night she was to tell him, Dean’s on fire—
“You get me into full throttle,

then put me in reverse—you could damage
my engine, baby.” And she’ll work it out herself...
go to Sweden, something. Faux Segovia background:

noble boozer, then a series of split-screen conversations.
A montage of past arguments. He cares, wants to help.
Dean, as the plane loses altitude, basks in altruism,

like the fuse stapled to the terrorist’s crotch,
a fat man with dynamite who holds a bomb briefcase.
A pale-faced mannequin sits, a lady with pink lipstick, 

a death face, Picasso’s African mask, eyes
two black jellybeans diagonally, then down.
The old lady, octogenarian comic relief,

peekaboos in glass, as if she, too,
knew contraband’s smell. 
The struggle is in opposite tautology:

“Give me the case.  No one is going
to hurt you. Stay still. I’m not threatening you.”
The fat man blows it up in the men’s room,

into the pregnant woman’s eyes,
Oedipal sacrifice and abortion metaphor intact.
A successful crash land, and we all need oxygen

but Dean doesn’t need to breath. Checking up on his honey
he runs down the aisle, high-fiving passengers
like at an All Star game. His lover’s eyes are

splintered, with metal shards.


Daniel Nester is an essayist, poet, journalist, editor, teacher, and Queen fan. His latest book is a memoir, Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects (99: The Press 2015). Previous books include How to Be Inappropriate (Soft Skull, 2010), God Save My Queen I and II (Soft Skull, 2003 and 2004), and The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody, 2014), which he edited. His website is