Return to Flight

—for the residents of the Youth Guidance Center,
San Francisco’s juvenile detention facility

What I notice most are your feet, boys,
so many sizes and all the same,
socks gone gray from washing, bagging loose at the toes
of vinyl slip-on sandals, shoes of old men
passed on to you from ones before.
You too will leave these shoes
for smaller boys whose thin dark limbs
still lay along the principal’s bench,
not yet here at the Youth Guidance Center,
so sweetly named, as if hands
against your backs will steer you right.

I would like to lead you away
from low cement and broken desks
through door after heavy clanging door
into the glittering night
to search the streets for a nameless place.
Silent, we would peer under every battered dumpster,
along every wall grown dark in a tangled cipher of names.

Near dawn we would find what we came for,
the unmarked spot where long ago
your wings fell from a window as you slept.
Now they lie in a sodden heap,
feathers gone heavy and gray.
We would gently pull them apart,
shake loose a cool spatter of rain.
Then, behind you, I would raise your shirts
lift the wings one by one into the open wounds in your backs
that would close around the wing-roots in a moment.

As morning begins to rise,
I would leave you on cast-away couches, wrecks of cars
your faces lit with an ancient light
your great wings spread in the sun to dry
perfect and still as cormorants
awaiting the slow return to flight.

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