C. Dale Young is the author of three collections of poetry, the most recent being Torn (Four Way, 2011).
A current Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry, he is also the recipient of a 2013 Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. He practices medicine full-time, edits poetry for the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He lives in San Francisco.
Walking through the forest, I felt the eyes
tracking me. I tested it. I made turn after turn, faster
faster, too fast for any animal. Something was tracking me,
continued to match my speed and cornering.
And when I stopped to turn, the man rushed at me,
struck me in the chest with the bare side of his forearm:
backward, backward, arch and then fall, the wind
forced from my chest, the impact strong enough to turn
my body into a ballistic that felled the small pine tree.
Struggling for breath, the heart so quick in my chest it hurt,
I rose and faced this man, a man much older than me.
When he rushed again, I struck him in the neck,
cycled and wheeled out of his path. This went on
forever, the fighting, each one hurling himself at the other,
the gasping and huffing, the fists thrown,
the speed of it at times blurring the arms. When he
finally spoke, all he said was Show yourself. Show me.
And when I refused to respond, when I stood there
with eyes locked on him, he pulled his shirt over his
head, his face purpling with rage. And then, it happened,
the wings presenting themselves behind him, the feathers
quill-like and grey, the feathers like the ones I have studied
in the mirror for so many years. Show yourself.
And surprised my own wings hadn’t already erupted,
I removed my shirt and felt the tearing heat to which
I have long since grown accustomed. We faced
each other, two unabashed winged things. We lunged.
We struck. We wrestled. The fight went on for hours.
And when we declared a draw, the two of us cut and bruised,
each of us out of breath and crouching, I stared at him.
Even then, we dared not take our eyes off each other.
He could not be trusted. I could not be trusted. And when
I finally had enough breath to speak, when I asked him if he
was a god, he answered Are you? We rose. We
backed away from the other. I rephrased the question,
asked him what kind of thing I was. He backed further
and further away, his eyes never leaving mine. And when he
tucked his wings, pulled his shirt back on, he shouted Human.
You are just human. He turned and disappeared into the woods.
Only then did I truly understand the cruelty of the gods.