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.
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