“The Lost Pilot” is written from a son’s point of view. He is writing about his father, a pilot, who was killed during the war. It starts with a graphic image of the co-pilot’s face: “Your face did not rot like the others…” His father’s face, he says, “…grew dark and hard like ebony.” Next, he talks about the gunner, Dallas, who is now blind: “…your hoodlum gunner now, with the blistered eyes, who reads his Braille editions.”
Clearly, the narrator knows the men who were shot down with his father. He can see and speak to them. He cannot, however, speak to or know his father. Every once in a while, he looks up at the sky and “sees” his father flying there. He says that if he could coax his father into coming down from his compulsive orbiting, “I would touch your face as a disinterested scholar touches an original page.”
This is when we begin to see the overall theme of the poem, which is that the son feels he never knew his father; he feels his father was taken away before he had the chance to really know him. The narrator says if his father came down from his orbit, he would not make him face anyone else or even try to understand him. He talks about “seeing” his father orbiting in the sky, and he says, “I feel as if I were the residue of a stranger’s life.” It is here that the reader really feels the narrator’s distance from his father. The final image of the poem supports this. He is looking up at the sky, wondering why he is in this world and his father is in “that” world.