Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Lost Pilot

by James Tate

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.

[Thanks to San for the tip...]

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Blogger San said...

What a pleasure to read this again, Murat. A moving, tremendously accomplished (I first typed accompliced--I like that better, because it implies that the poet's accomplice in its writing was the father) poem. Thanks for posting it. I believe it's from Tate's first book, the one that won the Yale Younger Poets. Seems each subsequent collection has gotten curiouser and curiouser. Right now we (B & I) are dipping in and out of "Return to the City of White Donkeys." It's much more recent and far more prosaic in its rhythms, and sometimes hysterical. Somewhere online there's a recording of Tate reading "Restless Leg Syndrome." That too is hysterical, both the poem and his deadpan reading.

Our Oaks won a merit-based tuition scholarship to the Juniper Young Writers' Conference a couple of summers ago. It was held at UMass-Amherst, and one of the poets he met there was James Tate. As a matter of fact, I believe in his application essay, Oaks quoted a line from "Eagle Exterminating Company" and said something to the effect that to hear Tate utter those words in person would make the conference worth it. (Those were far from his exact words.) Don't believe Tate read that particular poem, but he did do a reading for the conference attendees, both the adults and the young writers.

Oaks has been to a couple of these conferences. The other was at Sewanee. Both times he has come back enlivened, his fingers riveted to the keyboard.

2:51 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

"Accompliced" indeed. This is a beautiful and richly rewarding poem. That last stanza is a killer.

7:11 PM  

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