C. Dale Young
I am deeply grateful to the NEA for this fellowship. I am not only thankful for the financial support it offers that allows me more time to write, but also for the affirmation such an award brings with it. This fellowship gives me the time to put the finishing touches on my third book manuscript as well as work on new writing. I am still somewhat shocked to have received this amazing gift.
There was the knife and the broken syringe
then the needle in my hand, the Tru-Cut
followed by the night-blue suture.
The wall behind registration listed a man
with his face open. Through the glass doors,
I saw the sky going blue to black as it had
24 hours earlier when I last stood there gazing off
into space, into the nothingness of that town.
Bat to the head. Knife to the face. They tore
down the boy in an alleyway, the broken syringe
skittering across the sidewalk. No concussion.
But the face torn open, the blood congealed
and crusted along his cheek. Stitch up the faggot
in bed 6 is all the ER doctor had said.
Queasy from the lack of sleep, I steadied
my hands as best as I could after cleaning up
the dried blood. There was the needle
and the night-blue suture trailing behind it.
There was the flesh torn and the skin open.
I sat there and threw stitch after stitch
trying to put him back together again.
When the tears ran down his face,
I prayed it was a result of my work
and not the work of the men in the alley.
Even though I knew there were others to be seen,
I sat there and slowly threw each stitch.
There were always others to be seen. There was
always the bat and the knife. I said nothing,
and the tears kept welling in his eyes.
And even though I was told to be "quick and dirty,"
told to spend less than 20 minutes, I sat there
for over an hour closing the wound so that each edge
met its opposing match. I wanted him
to be beautiful again. Stitch up the faggot in bed 6.
Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe
in that town. There would always be the bat
and the knife, always a fool willing to tear me open
to see the dirty faggot inside. And when they
came in drunk or high with their own wounds,
when they bragged about their scuffles with the knife
and that other world of men, I sat there and sutured.
I sat there like an old woman and sewed them up.
Stitch after stitch, the slender exactness of my fingers
attempted perfection. I sat there and sewed them up.
C. Dale Young practices medicine full-time, serves as poetry editor of the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. His books of poetry include The Day Underneath the Day (Northwestern, 2001), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), and TORN (Four Way Books, forthcoming in 2012). He lives in San Francisco, where he is currently working on new poems and short stories.
Photo by Marion Ettlinger