James Tate--American


James Tate
(1943-    )


One of the most famous World War II poems was written by someone who was born during the war and who never knew the father he wrote of in his poem, “The Lost Pilot.”  James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri in1943.  His father was killed on a combat mission over Germany when he was just five months old.  Tate’s first poetry collection, titled “The Lost Pilot” was published during his 22nd year, the same age at which his father died.  Tate is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award.  His honors also include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.


The Lost Pilot

    for my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot
like the others–the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him
yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,
the poor ignorant people, stare
as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.
But your face did not rot
like the others–it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their
distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,
down from your compulsive
orbiting, I would touch you,
read your face as Dallas,
your hoodlum gunner, now,
with the blistered eyes, reads
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested
scholar touches an original page.
However frightening, I would
discover you, and I would not
turn you in; I would not make
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You
could return to your crazy
orbiting, and I would not try
to fully understand what
it means to you. All I know
is this: when I see you,
as I have seen you at least
once every year of my life,
spin across the wilds of the sky
like a tiny, African god,
I feel dead. I feel as if I were
the residue of a stranger's life,
that I should pursue you.
My head cocked toward the sky,
I cannot get off the ground,
and, you, passing over again,
fast, perfect, and unwilling
to tell me that you are doing
well, or that it was mistake
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune
placed these worlds in us.