The Vista

C. Dale Young - 1969-
Not tenderness in the eye but the brute need
to see accurately: over the ridge on a trail 
deep in Tennessee, the great poet looked out and saw
the vista that confederate soldiers saw 
as they rode over the edge rather than surrender. 

I saw only the edge of the cliff side itself and then
estimated the distance down to the bottom
of the dirty ravine. This is what someone with wings
does when he knows he cannot fly: he measures 
distance. I have spent far too much time 

examining my wings in the bathroom mirror
after the shower's steam has slowly cleared 
from the medicine cabinet's toothpaste-spattered glass:
grey, each feather just slightly bigger than a hawk's. 
The great poet said one might find a vista like this, 

perhaps, once in a lifetime, but I didn't understand
what he meant by this then. The wings, tucked
beneath a t-shirt, beneath my long-sleeve oxford,
the wings folded in along my spine, were irritated
by that humid air, itchy from the collected sweat from the hike. 

I wasn't paying attention, which is a sin I have since learned.
At 14, after the wings first erupted from my back,
I went up to the roof and tried to fly. Some lessons
can only be learned after earnest but beautiful failures.
My individual feathers are just slightly bigger than a hawk's

feathers. But my wingspan is just about 8 feet. I'm a man,
and like men I measure everything. But vistas 
make me nervous. And the great poet made me nervous. 
And I knew then what I still know now, that I 
was only seconds away from another beautiful failure.

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

Two Views

         1 
Into the laterals and faults of strata 
Whose linear seams are like memory,
Water wades its way, settling matters
In small aquifers, incised meanders;
Then floods over a landscape that teaches 
Plains are only so much sediment,
Silt the slow ocean of any reach.
 
Think travertine and serpentine mantel-
high in living rooms, or kames and tills
Scattered like loose change, the marvelous marble
Of dolomite and metamorphic rock,
Or granite now as coolingly aloof 
As someday overhead . . . small seismic self
Feeling a gust rattle years through the roof.
 
Meanwhile, there’s still the phone and mail, the door,
And the reassuring fact the fault’s not yours
As you’ve not budged. Not even the cat crosses the floor.
Outside, the world’s continuum of nests
Is full of cries announcing differences,
While mineshaft down, the brittle shale of self
Waits, certain of its own circumferences. 
 
One is colossus of one’s growing doubt,
With ideas like past presidents profiled
And floating enthusiastic shouts
From old elections, conclusions of the will,
The dehydrations of mere permanence. 
But high wing over shadow, how the world
Doubles in its transience. 
 
          2
Resplendently fragile, more color than weight,
As agile of flight as of changed habitat,
The birds are choric in the fate
Of their varieties; predictable
Of habit and Darwinian choices,
Myriad on one scale, and on another 
Essential and of but one in all. And voices,
 
This side liquid whistles followed by a trill,
While there, a series of clear carolings,
Then the rapid whinnies of descending will
While somewhere overhead a finch attempts 
All notes at once, as though to summarize
The way limbs ladder up, step green to blue 
So shadows rise.
 
But year on year, wing beat and season,
Fattened or starved, silent or full 
Of migratory sass, one reason
Brings each back, whether the same or no—
Warbler and thrush, sparrow and finch, wren, jay,
Thrasher and dove, tanager, waxwing, owl, crow, hawk . . . 
They light, feed, breed, migrate or stay.
 
Calendar wise in their brief histories
And vulnerable as any emigrants 
Searching to eat, they are geographies 
Of days, convergences of now, 
And needed if for nothing more than their arrival
When, worthy that again we crane to see, 
They bring survival.