Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Portrait in Graphite and Ornamental Hagiography

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.
 

Credit


Copyright © 2017 by C. Dale Young. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 13, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem


“I have, for years, made ‘nectar’ for the hummingbirds that live near my home. They are so singular in purpose, and this prompted me to think about what it means to be singular, a term I have been rubbing up against since my time in high school decades ago.”
—C. Dale Young
 

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: 2017-10-13

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/portrait-graphite-and-ornamental-hagiography