C. Dale Young
In Torn, his third collection, poet and doctor C. Dale Young continues his investigations into the human, depicted here as both spiritual being and as biological instrument, as both “the soul and its attendant concerns” and as a device that “requires charge, small / electrical impulses / racing through our bodies.” “In many ways / we are all conductors,” Young writes, his graceful pun a reminder of the way poetry is “this song I can barely hum over the wind.” In the beautiful “Windows,” the departing terminus of the collection, Young also situates poetry as an art that tells through visual means: “The story isn’t a difficult one to start, the way // a painter, after collecting many images, / approaches the canvas with something akin / to longing or need.” What is difficult, though, are the subjects of those images—and the challenges they pose for us.
Indeed, what Young tells and shows us, what his poems let us hear, does not aim to reassure or soothe. These are poems written from “white and yellow scraps / covered with words and words and more words— // I may never find the right words to describe this.” These sure-footed tercets register a struggle to understand the spiritual and the human, to come to terms with a religion which has “5,040 prerequisites for heaven” and a society that offers to label us, that requires we “Only use gender neutral when you must talk / about your beloved.” Torn concludes with its title poem, in which the speaker slowly, tenderly, sutures the face of a boy beaten for his sexuality. Here the speaker practices the healing arts aware of the failure written into their fruition: “stitch after stitch, the slender exactness of my fingers / attempted perfection.” This failure, Torn reminds us, makes us human: the doctor failing to treat his patients, the teacher failing to see her student as anything but a racial stereotype, the homophobe failing to see how “it was beautiful, that kiss” between two lovers on an Italian beach. Torn is an essential collection by a poet who’s mastered his craft—as healer, as teacher, as writer—enough to know it’s always mastered him.