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C. Dale Young

Presentable

 

Breathe. Am I not human? Am I not needed?

The ancients believed from day comes night

and from night comes day. So, too, from life

comes death and from death comes life.

 

The night demands I think, but thinking brings me

no solace. Who taught us that to be human is to

think? Thinking brought me only worry. Breathe.

The night, too, ends. It ends. Everything ends.

 

The day’s blue skies will make themselves presentable.

Presentable? Now there is something I understand.

Get up. Rise from the twisted sheets and become

presentable. Shave. Shower. Pretend to be composed.

 

Become the one who saves, the one who listens

and calms. Breathe. What else could I do? I did

what I had done for decades. I went to the hospital.

It felt normal, felt safe. But once again the circle had

 

turned, and I was the patient not the doctor. Breathe.

Breathe. Stare into the penlight and describe carefully

what is seen. As the edges of my vision shimmered

and blurred, solid things became watery and fluid.

 

All I could think about was the tumor, the thing

that was now both a threat and a reminder. I left

the neurosurgeon and became again the doctor. I

listened. I spoke about how the treatments I offered

 

gave a chance at cure, all the while knowing there was

no cure for me, for the brain tumor in my head. Breathe.

Breathe. Please breathe. I could not breathe. I held

my breath, held on to one of the last things I could.

 

 

The Flicker

 

You had been cold for so long, had lived within

too many anxieties. But it was suddenly clear.

The time had come again. The circle had turned

 

and it was time to start over. The tumor in your head

was not a tumor. Scarred vessels, your immune system

doing double duty. And the Dragon inside you

 

was becoming impatient, had begun to snarl. It was time,

time for you to go up in brilliant flames. You closed

your eyes, you slowed your breathing. It had been

 

cold for so long that you craved the heat. The tiny

flicker was always there, but you felt no fear this time.

The Phoenix inside you was ready to do its job.

 

And the Dragon breathed fire turning the flicker

within you into a torrent of flames. And you relaxed

and felt yourself rendering to ash. No fear. You had

 

been here before, knew you would step outside

of yourself to look upon the resulting heap of ash.

And the Phoenix within came alive, wrestling

 

until you found yourself within the ash, your shape

taking form and trembling, the new skin brown

and glistening. And soon, you were rising from it.

 

Son of the Dragon and the Phoenix, you stand there

newly born and cleansed. You had been cold for so long.

You stand while smoke and little flames escape your nostrils.

 

 

C. Dale Young is the author of a novel, The Affliction (2018) as well as five books of poetry, most recently Prometeo (2021). In 2025, Four Way Books will release his next collection, Building the Perfect Animal: New and Selected Poems. Young practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He lives in San Francisco.

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