The Lost Pilot
for my father, 1922-1944
Your face did not rot like the others--the co-pilot, for example, I saw him yesterday. His face is corn- mush: his wife and daughter, the poor ignorant people, stare as if he will compose soon. He was more wronged than Job. But your face did not rot like the others--it grew dark, and hard like ebony; the features progressed in their distinction. If I could cajole you to come back for an evening, down from your compulsive orbiting, I would touch you, read your face as Dallas, your hoodlum gunner, now, with the blistered eyes, reads his braille editions. I would touch your face as a disinterested scholar touches an original page. However frightening, I would discover you, and I would not turn you in; I would not make you face your wife, or Dallas, or the co-pilot, Jim. You could return to your crazy orbiting, and I would not try to fully understand what it means to you. All I know is this: when I see you, as I have seen you at least once every year of my life, spin across the wilds of the sky like a tiny, African god, I feel dead. I feel as if I were the residue of a stranger's life, that I should pursue you. My head cocked toward the sky, I cannot get off the ground, and, you, passing over again, fast, perfect, and unwilling to tell me that you are doing well, or that it was mistake that placed you in that world, and me in this; or that misfortune placed these worlds in us.
From The Lost Pilot, published by Yale University Press, 1967. Copyright © 1967 by James Tate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.