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TATE, James

The Lost Pilot

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.