Monday, May 28, 2007

Poetry Monday: C. Dale Young

I recently came across C. Dale Young's blog and recognized his name, so I hunted down some of his poetry and was blown away. C. Dale has graciously agreed to be featured on today's Monday Poetry.

He's a physican and a poet, a time-honored combination when you consider Rafael Campo and William Carlos Williams. (An aside: My mom is an R.N. and a writer.)

Exclusive to my blog only!! C. Dale discusses each of the two poems featured below.

C. Dale Young (blog here, website here) practices medicine full-time, edits poetry for New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He is the author of The Day Underneath the Day (Northwestern 2001) and The Second Person, just published this spring by Four Way Books.

Poem #1: "Clean"
C. Dale says: "I wrote 'Clean' after a friend of mine told me I never write about tenderness. I was determined to write a poem that held, at its core, tenderness. In the end, this is closest I have come.

Clean (by C. Dale Young, first appeared in Ploughshares)

Already, his abdomen was sculpted, and already
the thin trail descending from beneath his belly button.
Even now it is difficult to explain it. I was, after all,
only 7; I didn’t even know what Turkish meant.

In the dead of winter, which only meant
certain flowers had ceased blooming on the island,
we had driven up into the mountains
to “take the waters,” as our parents put it.

Our parents’ instructions were simple: they would be
in one room, our sisters in another, my brother
and I in yet another. Down the dark hallways
as dark as tunnels, down through the strong smell

of minerals and seawater, the attendants led us
to our rooms. What was that smell? Sulfur?
Aluminum? There was the smell of salt, but it
was not the salt of the earth, not the sea itself.

The old man told us not to sit in the water for more
than fifteen minutes at a time, to drink lots of cold water,
to scrub the salts into our skin, to take care of each other.
And then, he left us. We took off our clothes, did it

without thinking. “You get in first,” is all he said, his voice
sounding more like my father’s, his voice having changed
almost a year ago. His body had changed, too.
Sitting in the pool, my thoughts began to swim

in the vapors, the steam. I felt nauseated.
I wanted not to look at him. I wanted to look at the tile:
blue and blue-white with the depiction of a terrible vine
twisting and creeping around the tops of the walls.

When he got out and lay on the tile next to the pool,
his abdomen was already sculpted, and the thin trail . . .
He knew I watched him, and he loved the admiration.
When I finally got out, my head dizzy, my heart racing

from the heat, I lay myself down next to him. He scrubbed
my back with a rough sponge, pulled me against his chest
as he scrubbed behind my ears and under my arms. There,
in the steam, I was cleaner than I would ever be again.
* * *

Poem #2: "Sepsis"
C. Dale says: "'Sepsis' is an amalgamation of several experiences I had as medical Intern. I am haunted by many experiences I have had as a physician. Sometimes, the haunting spills over into my poems. As much as I love my profession and cannot imagine myself not practicing Medicine, it has damaged me in ways I can never explain. I am not even sure I can explain it to myself."

Sepsis (by C. Dale Young, first appeared in the
Virginia Quarterly Review)

The fog has yet to lift, God, and still the bustle
of buses and garbage trucks. God, I have coveted
sleep. I have wished to find an empty bed

in the hospital while on call. I have placed
my bodily needs first, left nurses to do
what I should have done. And so, the antibiotics

sat on the counter. They sat on the counter
under incandescent lights. No needle was placed
in the woman’s arm. No IV was started. It sat there

on the counter waiting. I have coveted sleep, God,
and the toxins I studied in Bacteriology took hold
of Your servant. When the blood flowered

beneath her skin, I shocked her, placed the paddles
on her chest, her dying body convulsing each time.
The antibiotics sat on the counter, and shame

colored my face, the blood pooling in my cheeks
like heat. And outside, the stars continued falling
into place. And the owl kept talking without listening.

And the wind kept sweeping the streets clean.
And the heart in my chest stayed silent.
How could I have known that I would never forget,

that early some mornings, in the waking time,
the fog still filling the avenues, that the image
of her body clothed in sweat would find me?

I have disobeyed my Oath. I have caused harm.
I have failed the preacher from the Baptist Church.
Dear God, how does a sinner outlast the sin?


sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks, in particular, for adding Young's comments about the poetry.

Collin Kelley said...

Glad to see C.Dale featured. He's a great poet. I highly recommend his new book of poems, "The Second Person."

Francisco Aragón said...

I love the idea of posting a poem (with commentary) at regular reasonable intervals.

Anonymous said...

BOTH poems are "tender." and skilled and moving... Wow! and thank you,

Pat Fargnoli