Portrait in Graphite and Ornamental Hagiography

C. Dale Young - 1969-
You may not believe it, but I have tried, 
set my sights on the morning star 
in belief it would guide me. I have tried.
 
I have tried, as the Jesuits taught, to be 
singular, to be whole, to be one. The labor 
of this was exhausting. Time reveals things 
 
one need not appreciate when young, and I fear 
being singular, being one, is something 
damned near impossible for someone 
 
like me. Saint Jerome, cloistered in a tiny room,
found his singular calling in updating
the Latin Bible with his knowledge of Greek texts. 
 
In Assisi, Saint Francis updated nature, called birds 
out of the trees. I am, unfortunately, no saint. 
Fractured, divided to the quick, I am incapable 
 
of being singular. And the old nun who taught Art 
at my high school, who called me a stupid mongrel,
understood this very fact long before I did.
 
Profession, family, belief: I can see now
my background challenges me, prevents me
from remaining true to only one thing. The fog, 
 
settled over Ocean Beach, settles the matter 
by embracing everything indiscriminately, 
and I want to understand why I notice 
 
such things. For most of my life, I have desired 
a category, a designation, but maybe 
that desire was misplaced? Maybe it was just 
 
another failure, a failure of imagination? 
Outside, two hummingbirds cross-stitch the air. 
They have lived here for so long, lived
 
off the “nectar” I boil up for them each week, 
that they show me no semblance of fear or distrust—
they hover and feed near me with violent precision.
 

More by C. Dale Young

The Philosopher in Florida

Midsummer lies on this town 
like a plague: locusts now replaced 
by humidity, the bloodied Nile

now an algae-covered rivulet 
struggling to find its terminus. 
Our choice is a simple one:

to leave or to remain, to render 
the Spanish moss a memory 
or to pull it from trees, repeatedly.

And this must be what the young 
philosopher felt, the pull of a dialectic so basic 
the mind refuses, normally,

to take much notice of it. 
Outside, beyond a palm-tree fence, 
a flock of ibis mounts the air,

our concerns ignored 
by their quick white wings.
Feathered flashes reflected in water,

the bending necks of the cattails:
the landscape feels nothing—
it repeats itself with or without us.

Night Air

"If God is Art, then what do we make
of Jasper Johns?"  One never knows
what sort of question a patient will pose,

or how exactly one should answer.
Outside the window, snow on snow 
began to answer the ground below

with nothing more than foolish questions.
We were no different.  I asked again:
"Professor, have we eased the pain?"

Eventually, he’d answer me with: 
"Tell me, young man, whom do you love?"
"E," I’d say, "None of the Above,"

and laugh for lack of something more
to add.  For days he had played that game,
and day after day I avoided your name

by instinct.  I never told him how
we often wear each other’s clothes—
we aren’t what many presuppose.

Call it an act of omission, my love.
Tonight, while walking to the car,
I said your name to the evening star,

clearly pronouncing the syllables
to see your name dissipate
in the air, evaporate.

Only the night air carries your words
up to the dead (the ancients wrote):
I watched them rise, become remote.

Blood

Someone has already pulled a knife
across my chest, and the rope has already
gripped our wrists drawing blood.

I am naked, and I cannot be sure
if you are as well. In the room, the men
come and go, yelling blood bath, half-blood,

blood-bitch. We never hear the word trueblood.
In my dreams I am dying all the time.
We are bound and gagged, blindfolded,

but still I know you must be the one
lying there, the cool anodized steel table
beneath us, the two of us side by side.

Lying there, my shoulder blades ache,
and there is blood collecting in
the corners of my mouth. But then it happens,

just as it always happens: your fingers
suddenly twist into tiny shoots, your arms
break free as you accept the shape

of a tree, the leaves sprouting, the delicate
bark rising up from your skin's surface.
Try as I might, I never seem able.

On the telephone this morning, I again
keep the dream to myself. Half-blood
becomes half-breed. Blood-bitch

becomes blood-sister. But blood never lies,
does it? Blood carries so many secrets
one can only hear its murmurs in our arteries,

its incessant monologue, in the quiet
night's bed just before sleep. Blood says
You are more and, sometimes, You are less.

Related Poems

Civilization

There's an art
   to everything. How
the rain means
   April and an ongoingness like
   that of song until at last

it ends. A centuries-old
   set of silver handbells that
once an altar boy swung,
   processing...You're the same
   wilderness you've always

been, slashing through briars,
   the bracken
of your invasive
   self. So he said,
   in a dream. But

the rest of it—all the rest—
   was waking: more often
than not, to the next
   extravagance. Two blackamoor
   statues, each mirroring

the other, each hoisting
   forever upward his burden of
hand-painted, carved-by-hand
   peacock feathers. Don't
   you know it, don't you know

I love you, he said. He was
   shaking. He said:
I love you. There's an art
   to everything. What I've
   done with this life,

what I'd meant not to do,
 or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
 no regrets. Not the broken but
 still-flowering dogwood. Not

the honey locust, either. Not even
   the ghost walnut with its
non-branches whose
   every shadow is memory,
   memory...As he said to me

once, That's all garbage
   down the river, now. Turning,
but as the utterly lost—
   because addicted—do:
   resigned all over again. It

only looked, it—
   It must only look
like leaving. There's an art
   to everything. Even
   turning away. How

eventually even hunger
   can become a space
to live in. How they made
   out of shamelessness something
   beautiful, for as long as they could.