Not tenderness in the eye but the brute need
to see accurately: over the ridge on a trail
deep in Tennessee, the great poet looked out and saw
the vista that confederate soldiers saw
as they rode over the edge rather than surrender.
I saw only the edge of the cliff side itself and then
estimated the distance down to the bottom
of the dirty ravine. This is what someone with wings
does when he knows he cannot fly: he measures
distance. I have spent far too much time
examining my wings in the bathroom mirror
after the shower's steam has slowly cleared
from the medicine cabinet's toothpaste-spattered glass:
grey, each feather just slightly bigger than a hawk's.
The great poet said one might find a vista like this,
perhaps, once in a lifetime, but I didn't understand
what he meant by this then. The wings, tucked
beneath a t-shirt, beneath my long-sleeve oxford,
the wings folded in along my spine, were irritated
by that humid air, itchy from the collected sweat from the hike.
I wasn't paying attention, which is a sin I have since learned.
At 14, after the wings first erupted from my back,
I went up to the roof and tried to fly. Some lessons
can only be learned after earnest but beautiful failures.
My individual feathers are just slightly bigger than a hawk's
feathers. But my wingspan is just about 8 feet. I'm a man,
and like men I measure everything. But vistas
make me nervous. And the great poet made me nervous.
And I knew then what I still know now, that I
was only seconds away from another beautiful failure.