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.
Copyright © 2012 by C. Dale Young. Used with permission of the author.
C. Dale Young
C. Dale Young is the author of four poetry collections: The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016), Torn (Four Way Books, 2011), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), and The Day Underneath the Day (Northwestern University Press, 2001).
Date Published: 2012-01-10
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/vista