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At Lindbergh’s Grave

On May 20, 1927, Charles Augustus 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). (Lindbergh: February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974)

“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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  • Jewel August 26, 2018, 3:15 AM

    I awoke this moment, thinking about what I needed to do this day. While visiting the grave of Limburgh was not on my list of things to do, it is most needful, and I am glad I came.
    Thank you, Mr. Vanderleun.

  • John the River August 26, 2018, 6:49 AM

    Been there back in the nineties. Of all the photographs we lost in the fire, the ones from Hawaii I miss most after family.

    That Hana road is quite something, isn’t it?