Part of her forthcoming collection THE HOPE OF FLOATING HAS CARRIED US THIS FAR (Coffee House Press, 2015), Quintan Ana Wikswo’s COLD WAR CLUB is a suite of photographs and hybrid texts. During the Cold War, scientists designed and tested aircraft that challenged the boundaries of aeronautical engineering. Communism and Capitalist Democracy defined the frontiers of messianic geopolitical imperialism. Caught between science and politics were the bodies of men – handsome, heroic, and legendary test pilots whose careers were as epic and daring as they were deadly. The KHOLODNAYA VOYNA [Cold War] CLUB finds the downed pilots trapped in a no-man’s-afterlife at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, able to move beyond the antagonisms of ideology, but unable to make peace with their memories of the women they left behind.
As a young teenager, my first true love was an unrequited crush on an eighteen year old named Kent Koontz. One day, he told me of his plans to run away from home to join the military and become an Air Force fighter pilot. Heartbroken, I tried everything imaginable to dissuade him from heading towards certain death in Soviet air battles. During his preparations to leave, I saw Lloyd Dobbler raise the boombox over his head in Say Anything, convincing Diane (who is afraid to fly) not to leave him behind. I hoped to achieve similar effects when I bicycled to his house at night with boombox strapped to my handlebars. I was unsuccessful. He became a fighter pilot for the Navy. He was killed when his F-16 malfunctioned and crashed into the mountains. When I’m in an airplane, I often work a bit more on this piece, and the incorrigible teenage corners of my psyche suggest that somewhere, plagued by longing and regret, he is planning to return to me.
excerpted from THE KHOLODNAYA VOYNA CLUB
by Quintan Ana Wikswo
> POLIKARPOV I-15
It is the first meeting. Their gaze is bleak, austere and focused, yet their fingers chatter skeletal around crude ceramic cups: the force field of combat discipline weakens at their appendages, at the furthest distance from their hearts.
Already the physiological deployment of resolve and commitment has begun to falter, has become less certain.
Their enemies are despair and shallow breathing.
The light in the room has shifted to glacier tints of ice and water, sky and eye. Their skin glints silver – more like trout than man.
> Ilyushin DB-3
The coffee is tepid, and they barely sip it. It is their three hundredth and forty-second meeting.
There is a green gelatinous murk to the light, and now their fingers only loosely wrap their coffee mugs, a drape of slimy flesh that suggests a grip.
At the crests of their heads, each bears adipose fat, and the beginnings of fins.
The youngest strikes his fist against the table and the others snap into shape again: ankles, knees, hips and shoulders emerge from sinuous spines and they once more resemble themselves, their former selves. The forms that they recall, they rebuild. They reach up with real fingers to feel their skulls, and find these sites reassembled. Sharply razored hair appears – snipped into a brush of platinum or ebony or gold – obeying appropriate military affiliations.
They clench their memories of torso and leg, and blood pulses at their jaw lines.
This is the tactic they learned to keep from blacking out.
KHOLODNAYA VOYNA CLUB is supported by the Corporation of Yaddo, and thoroughly unsupported by the U.S. Navy (who ironically enough awarded me a small fellowship based on my senior Science Fair experiment), and by all the hostile civilians who told me it was silly to love a test pilot, much less a scared Tennessee boy who wanted someday to become one.