Kitty Hawk
Back there in 1953 with the Huntington Cairnses
(A Skylark for Them in Three-Beat Phrases)



Kitty Hawk, O Kitty,
There was once a song,
Who knows but a great
Emblematic ditty,
I might well have sung
When I came here young
Out and down along
Past Elizabeth City
Sixty years ago.
Iwas, to be sure,
Out of sorts with Fate,
Wandering to and fro
In the earth alone,
You might think too poor
Spirited to care
Who I was or where
I was being blown
Faster than my tread
Like the crumpled, better
Leftunwntten letter
I had read and thrown.
Oh, but not to boast,
Ever since Nag's Head
Had my heart been great,
Not to claim elate,
With a need the gale
Filled me with to shout
Summary riposte
To the dreary wail
There's no knowing what
Love is all about.
Poets know a lot.
Never did I fail
Of an answer back
To the zodiac
When in heartless chorus
Aries and Taurus,
Gemini and Cancer
Mocked me for an answer.
It was on my tongue
To have up and sung
The initial flight
I can see now might--
Should have been my own--
Into the unknown,
Into the sublime
Off these sands of Time
Time had seen amass
From his hourglass.
Once I told the Master,
Later when we met,
I'd been here one night
As a young Alastor
When the scene was set
For some kind of flight
Long before he flew it.
Just supposing I-
I had beat him to it.
What did men mean by
THE original?
Why was it so very,
Very necessary
To be first of all?
How about the lie
That he wasn't first?
I was glad he laughed.
There was such a lie
Money and maneuver
Fostered over long
Until Herbert Hoover
Raised this tower shaft
To undo the wrong.
Of all crimes the worst
Is to steal the glory
From the great and brave,
Even more accursed
Than to rob the grave.
But the sorry story
Has been long redressed.
And as for my jest
I had any claim
To the runway's fame
Had I only sung,
That is all my tongue.
I can't make it seem
More than that my theme
Might have been a dream
Of dark Hatteras
Or sad Roanoke,
One more fond alas
For the seed of folk
Sowed in vain by Raleigh,
Raleigh of the cloak,
And some other folly.

Getting too befriended,
As so often, ended
Any melancholy
That I might have sung.
I fell in among
Some kind of committee
From Elizabeth City,
Each and every one
Loaded with a gun
Or a demijohn.
(Need a body ask
If it was a flask?)
Out to kill a duck
Or perhaps a swan
Over Currituck.

This was not their day
Anything to slay
Unless one another.
But their lack of luck
Made them no less gay
No, nor less polite.
They included me
Like a little brother
In their revelry--
All concern to take
Care my innocence
Should at all events
Tenderly be kept
For good gracious' sake.
And if they were gentle
They were sentimental.
One drank to his mother
While another wept.
Something made it sad
For me to break loose
From the need they had
To make themselves glad
They were of no use.
Manners made it hard,
But that night I stole
Off on the unbounded
Beaches where the whole
Of the Atlantic pounded.
There I next fell in
With a lone coast guard
On midnight patrol,
Who as of a sect
Asked about my soul
And where-all I'd been.
Apropos of sin,
Did I recollect
How the wreckers wrecked
Theodosia Burr
Off this very shore?
'Twas to punish her,
But her father more
We don't know what for:
There was no confession.
Things they think she wore
Still sometimes occur
In someone's possession
Here at Kitty Hawk.
We can have no notion
Of the strange devotion
Burr had for his daughter:
He was too devoted.
So it was in talk
We prolonged the walk,
On one side the ocean,
And on one a water
Of the inner sound;
"And the moon was full,"
As the poet said
And I aptly quoted.
And its being hall
And right overhead,
Small but strong and round,
By its tidal pull
Made all being hall.
Kitty Hawk, Kitty,
Here it was again
In the selfsame day,
I at odds with men
Came upon their pity,
Equally profound
For a son astray
And a daughter drowned.


When the chance went by
For my Muse to fly
From this Runway Beach
As a figure of speech
In a flight of words,
Little I imagined
Men would treat this sky
Some day to a pageant
Like a thousand birds.
Neither you nor I
Ever thought to fly.
Oh, but fly we did,
Literally fly.
That's because though mere
Lilliputlans we're
What Catullus called
Somewhat (aliquid).
Mind you, we are mind.
We are not the kind
To stay too confined.
After having crawled
Round the place on foot
And done yeoman share
Of just staying put,
We arose from there
And we scaied a plane
So the stilly air
Almost pulled our hair
Like a hurricane.

Then I saw it all.

Pulpiteers will censure
Our instinctive venture
Into what they call
The material
When we took that fall
From the apple tree.
But God's own descent
Into flesh was meant
As a demonstration
That the supreme merit
Lay in risking spirit
In substantiation.
Westerners inherit
A design for living
Deeper into matter
Not without due patter
Of a great misgiving.
All the science zest
To materialize
By on-penetration
Into earth and skies
(Don't forget the latter
Is but further matter)
Has been West Northwest.
If it was not wise,
Tell me why the East
Seemingly has ceased
From its long stagnation
In mere meditation.
What is all the hass
To catch up with us?
Can it be to flatter
Us with emulation?
Spirit enters flesh
And for all it's worth
Charges into earth
In birth after birth
Ever fresh and fresh.
We may take the view
That its derring-do
Thought of in the large
Was one mighty charge
On our human part
Of the soul's ethereal
Into the material.
In a running start
As it were from scratch
On a certain slab
Of (we'll say) basalt
In or near Moab
With intent to vault
In a vaulting match,
Never mind with whom--
(No one, I presume,
But ourselves--mankind,
In a love and hate
Rivalry combined.)
'Twas a radio
Voice that said, Get set
In the alphabet,
That is A B C,
Which some day should be
Rhymed with
On a college gate."
Then the radio
Region voice said, "Go,
Go you on to know
More than you can sing.
Have no hallowing fears
Anything's forbidden
Just because it's hidden.
Trespass and encroach
On successive spheres
Without self-reproach."
Then for years and years
And for miles and miles
'Cross the Aegean Isles,
Athens Rome France Britain,
Always West Northwest,
As have I not written,
Till the so-long kept
Purpose was expressed
In the leap we leapt.
And the radio
Cried, "The Leap-The Leap!"
It belonged to US,
Not our friends the Russ,
To have run the event
To its full extent
And have won the crown,
Or let's say the cup,
On which with a date
Is the inscription though,
"Nothing can go up
But it must come down."
Earth is still our fate.
The uplifted sight
We enjoyed at night
When instead of sheep
We were counting stars,
Not to go to sleep,
But to stay awake
For good gracious' sake,
Naming stars to boot
To avoid mistake,
Jupiter and Mars,
Just like Pullman cars,
'Twas no vain pursuit.
Some have preached and taught
All there was to thought
Was to master Nature
By some nomenclature.
But if not a law
'Twas an end foregone
Anything we saw
And thus fastened on
With an epithet
We would see to yet
We would want to touch
Not to mention clutch.


Someone says the Lord
Says our reaching toward
Is its own reward.
One would like to know
Where God says it though.
We don't like that much.
Let's see where we are.
What's that sulphur blur
Off there in the fog?
Go consult the log.
It's some kind of town,
But it's not New York.
We're not very far
Out from where we were.
It's still Kitty Hawk.

We'd have got as far
Even at a walk.

Don't you crash me down.
Though our kiting ships
Prove but flying chips
From the science shop
And when motors stop
They may have to drop
Short of anywhere,
Though our leap in air
Prove as vain a hop
As the hop from grass
Of a grasshopper,
Don't discount our powers;
We have made a pass
At the infinite,
Made it, as it were,
Rationally ours,
To the most remote
Swirl of neon-lit
Particle afloat.
Ours was to reclaim
What had long been faced
As a fact of waste
And was waste in name.
That's how we became
Though an earth so small,
Justly known to fame

As the Capital
Of the universe.
We make no pretension
Of projecting ray
We can call our own
From this ball of stone,
None I don't reject
As too new to mention.
All we do's reflect
From our rocks, and yes,
From our brains no less.
And the better part
Is the ray we dart
From this head and heart,
The mens animi.

Till we came to be
There was not a trace
Of a thinking race
Anywhere in space.
We know of no world
Being whirled and whirled
Round and round the rink
Of a single sun
(So as not to sink),
Not a single one
That has thought to think.


Pilot, though at best your
Flight is but a gesture,
And your rise and swoop,
But a loop the loop,
Lands on someone hard
In his own backyard
From no higher heaven
Than a bolt of levin,
I don't say retard.
Keep on elevating.
But while meditating
What we can't or can
Let's keep starring man
In the royal role.
It will not be his
Ever to create
One least germ or coal.
Those two things we can't.
But the comfort is
In the covenant
We may get control
If not of the whole
Of at least some part
Where not too immense,
So by craft or art
We can give the part
Wholeness in a sense.
The becoming fear
That becomes us best
Is lest habit ridden
In the kitchen midden
Of our dump of earnig
And our dump of learning
We come nowhere near
Getting thought expressed.


This wide flight we wave
At the stars or moon
Means that we approve
Of them on the move.
Ours is to behave
Like a kitchen spoon
Of a size Titanic
To keep all things stirred
In a blend mechanic
Saying That's the tune,
That's the pretty kettle!
Matter mustn't curd,
Separate and settle.
Action is the word.

Nature's never quite
Sure she hasn't erred
In her vague design
Till on some fine night
We two come in flight
Like a king and queen
And by right divine,
Waving scepter-baton,
Undertake to tell her
What in being stellar
She's supposed to mean.

God of the machine,
Peregrine machine,
Some still think is Satan,
Unto you the thanks
For this token flight,
Thanks to you and thanks
To the brothers Wright
Once considered cranks
Like Darius Green
In their home town, Dayton.

Robert Frost
In The Clearing