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At Lindbergh’s Grave

Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born on February 4, 1902 in Detroit, Michigan. On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field, near New York City, at 7:52 A.M. He landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, on May 21 at 10:21 P.M. Paris time (5:21 P.M. New York time).

“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”

— Psalm 139

That long green swell that sears my eyes
As I drowse on this bed of black stones,
Is it the Irish coast rising in the dawn
Beyond the brushed silver of my cowling
Where, throughout the night, I trusted
Not in some desert God’s directions,
But, like all fools who dreamed my flight,
In the calibrated compasses of man?

That rushing sound, is it the crowd at Le Bourget,
Swarming past the barriers and lights
To scavenge my Spirit; to lift me up
Into the air that only heroes breathe?
Or is it the age-old sigh of sea on stones,
Known to those who pace the shingle
And the swirled black sands that wrap
These impossible islands in a shawl of waves?

That painting daubed on the chapel’s window —
Not the roselined mandala at Chartres
Where flame in glass misprisoned sings —
But a cruder Savior, bearded, browned, and popular;
An icon obtainable to plain sight, a trim God
Limned flat upon the glass in dull gesso,
And, when light moves behind it, looking down….
Is this the sign in which, at last, we conquer?

Conquer? I’d laugh the laugh of stones
Had I but eyes to see and lips to breathe.
No, I am content with my reduced cathedral
Here above the ocean where man and apes
Together waltzing lie, having done at last
With all horizons, having done at last with sky.

If you would see me now pass by
The stuccoed church where ancient banyans
Bloom with shade and web and guard
The tower’s bell which hands
May toll for you, or toll for me,
Or toll tomorrow’s other souls
Not yet delivered to the stars and sea.

And then, retreating, you mark the tree
Whose tendriled branches hold but air,
And shadow both the church and stones
Beneath which wait both apes and men
Who, foolish with their hunger for the air,
Swung branch to branch up all the eons
And, letting go at last, they learned —
Through my night’s leap — to rise.

Sea, Stone, Tree, Ape and Savior:
These now my long companions are.
Better here, I think, in this dank green
Cartoon of Paradise, this slight-of-hand Eden;
Better here beneath the pumice stones
Where strangers drop a wreath a year.

Better in here deep than out there wide —
Hovering over the pillaring waves alone,
Suspended between the Old World and the New,
Trusting in man’s compass to guide me home;
Descending down the sharp cold blade of dawn.
Better, much better, here at last to drowse.
Home here where the shawl of the waves below
Enfolds that fire they could never snare.

         — At the Palapala Ho’omau Church, Hana, Maui

Composed and photographs taken on site. Hana, 2003

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  • Rob De Witt February 4, 2018, 5:12 AM

    Here above the ocean where man and apes
    Together waltzing lie, having done at last
    With all horizons, having done at last with sky.

    So, so beautiful.

    I have what I hope is only a massive cold; the combined effect of your words and that image on the window is fairly hallucinatory.

    Thanks.

  • Sam L. February 4, 2018, 8:05 AM

    And we’ve learned he had a whole ‘nother family. “Man got around, he did!”

  • Dutch February 4, 2018, 9:53 AM

    It’s as if Lindbergh didn’t really have a home. He ended up, set up for an eternity, in a place that has little bearing or relationship with the other elements of his famous and tragic life.

    Our family visited the site in 1968, my Mom being a botanist and her having significant local connections in Hana. We were instructed to stay out of the line of sight of the main house, and to disturb nothing, as Mr. Lindbergh had an awful temper and did not want to interact with people. I am not sure, at the time, that it was common knowledge that he was living there. At the time, we were sternly told by our contacts not to tell anyone where he lived.

  • JamesG February 5, 2018, 9:06 AM

    A few years ago I met an elderly gentleman who actually witnessed Lindbergh’s take off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island.

  • Howard Nelson February 5, 2018, 1:44 PM

    Did he do it for some love
    Did he do it for some glory
    Did he do it because he thought it fun
    Did he do it because most said it could not be done
    Or, that daring leap, did he do it for us all, man’s forever defining story?