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The Pilot's Daughter

(Second edition)


by Gardner McFall


Expectations

When we turned from the cement drive
to the gravel road, I might have expected
anything from my brother, just six,
learning to ride a two-wheeler for the first time.
Older by five years, I ran beside him
like a bedrail to keep him from falling,

while Mother stood on the front stoop,
hands visor-fashion over her eyes.
She looked like a cheerleader fixed on the play.
My father appeared at the road's end,
an imaginary finish line we wavered toward
in a shaky, ongoing S.

Time seemed endless, the moment
between knowing and not knowing whether
he would ride on straight without me,
whether he would spill to the other side
or into my arms. And how could I keep
the world from spinning as the two wheels

turned and kept turning over the stones and dust?
Whatever it was I tripped on, I went down
knee, shoulder, cheek to a quick, clean fracture
of the wrist no one could foresee or accept.
And so I went to bed in the still-light
evening, assured I would be well,

torn between assurance and the small pain
that outgrew my limbs by morning.
Now, it seems slapstick that an older sister
stumbles beside her brother,
but the ground for human error
is immense, and I've since learned

people will tell you
your arm's not broken, not because
they don’t want to drive you to the dispensary,
not even because they don't believe
the pain you feel, but, put simply,
it's not supposed to happen like that.



Summary:

At the heart of this book are sequences that portray some of the central themes of our time: what the Vietnam War took away from us, what the painful reexamination of our loss can give back, and what surprising durability inheres in the sinews of our origins, family, and beliefs. With a fine clarity and precision of language, McFall's thirty-nine poems look back to her pilot-father's death, across her native Floridian landscape, and ahead to her child's birth. At once elegiac and celebratory, highly crafted and full of feeling, they illustrate the restorative powers of art, memory and the natural world.



Praise:

The ardors of domestic experience, mostly from one generation to the next, are what fuel her poems to their (often fierce) heat. I salute the intimate heroism thus revealed.
— Richard Howard, author of No Traveller and Lining Up


Speaking of her father, lost in the Vietnam War, Gardner McFall writes: "I have kept / all the doors open in my life / so that he could walk in. . . ." The vibrant, deeply felt poems in this book open doors for the reader, allowing us to enter her experiences as if they were our own.
— Linda Pastan, author of The Five Stages of Grief and An Early Afterlife


Gardner McFall has the gift of conveying the sense of mystery in literal scenes . . . and the force of subjective musings. Her work reaches painful intensity when it centers on her father's death in war: especially in "Missing," "Facts," and the title piece, "The Pilot's Daughter." But she can also discover a kindred intensity, almost uncanny, in moments of mesmerized natural observation.
— M. L. Rosenthal, author of Running to Paradise: Yeats’ Poetic Art


Gardner McFall's poems are poised, even delicate — or delicate the way an insect's antennae, its feelers are — as she explores the outer world for correspondences to inner states, allows images to retrieve memories. She is a naturalist of the heart, an analyst of the world.
— J.D. McClatchy, author of Mercury Dressing and Hazmat, and editor of The Vintage Book of Contemporary Poetry

 


 

This book is available in Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, and Apple E-book formats, for purchase, and through public libraries' Overdrive account, for loan.






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