Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Between the Dragon and the Phoenix

Between the Dragon and the Phoenix

By C. Dale Young - 1969-


Fire in the heart, fire in the sky, the sun just

a smallish smudge resting on the horizon

out beyond the reef that breaks the waves,


fiery sun that waits for no one. I was little more

than a child when my father explained

that the mongrel is stronger than the thoroughbred,


that I was splendidly blended, genetically engineered

for survival. I somehow forgot this, misplaced this,

time eroding my memory as it erodes everything.


But go ask someone else to write a poem about Time.

Out over the bay, the sun is rising, and I am running

out of time. Each and every year, on my birthday,


I wake to watch the sunrise. I am superstitious.

And today, as in years past, it is not my father

but my father’s father who comes to shout at me:


Whether you like it or not, you are a child of fire. You

descend from the Dragon, descend from the Phoenix.

Your blood is older than England, older than Castille.


Year after year, he says the same thing, this old man

dead long before I was born. So, I wake each year

on the day of my birth to watch the fire enter the sky


while being chastised by my dead grandfather.

Despite being a creature of fire, I stay near the water.

Why even try to avoid what can extinguish me?


There are times I can feel the fire flickering inside my frame.

The gulls are quarreling, the palm trees shimmering—

the world keeps spinning on its axis. Some say I have


nine lives. Others think me a machine. Neither is true.

The truth is rarely so conventional. Fire in my heart, fire

in my veins, I write this down for you and watch


as it goes up in flames. There are no paragraphs

wide enough to contain this fire, no stanzas

durable enough to house it. Blood of the Dragon,


blood of the Phoenix, I turn my head slowly

toward the East. I bow and call for another year.

I stand there and demand one more year.



About This Poem


“Can the dead visit you? Can a grandfather who died before you were even born come to you? Every year on my birthday, I get up to watch the sunrise. And every year, I feel quite clearly my father’s father is there with me.”—C. Dale Young




Why I Chose This Poem


I chose this poem because I was looking at poems for LGBTQ+ Pride Month on the Academy of American Poets website, and the title of this poem, “Between the Dragon and the Phoenix,” caught my eye. I have a tattoo on my left arm of a dragon and a phoenix. The tattoo is very meaningful for me because it represents a friend of mine who died last year. He had been a friend of mine from about the time I started blogging. He had helped me through some difficult times, and I will forever be grateful for his friendship. In the last few years of his life, he had suffered some major health problems, and he was not able to recover from them. 


He lived in Hawaii but was of Chinese descent. We rarely exchanged Christmas gifts, but we always sent each other something for Chinese New Year and for birthdays. One year, I sent him a drawing of a dragon and phoenix in the classic Yin and Yang position. I had an artist friend of mine draw it and I had it framed and sent to him. When his mother saw it, she became very excited as it was nearly the exact same design as had been on her wedding dress many years earlier. Because he cherished that piece of art and displayed it prominently in his house, I had a similar design tattooed on my arm to always remind me of him and his generosity.


Like in the grandfather in “Between the Dragon and the Phoenix,” I feel that my friend is with me always.

My Tattoo



About The Poet

C. Dale Young was born in 1969 and grew up in the Caribbean and South Florida. He received a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and English at Boston College in 1991 and went on to earn an MFA in English and creative writing and a doctoral degree in medicine, both from the University of Florida.


Young is the author of five poetry collections: Prometeo, (Four Way Books, 2021); The Affliction: A Novel in Stories (Four Way Books, 2018); The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016); Torn (Four Way Books, 2011); The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007); The Day Underneath the Day (Northwestern University Press, 2001).


In his review of Torn, Mark Doty writes, “C. Dale Young’s poems employ sly forms of repetition, touching back to phrases we’ve already encountered as if to guide us along the poem’s winding way. How important—and how fierce—these directions turn out to be as his poems push into their deepest territory: the burden of expectation and guilt, the fiercely pressurized experience that an education in the ‘healing arts’ becomes. … [Young] brings all his strength to bear on the necessary work of art, which is also a means of tending and of stitching, a craft that by its very artfulness implies the possibility of hope.”


Young’s honors include the Grolier Prize and the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The former poetry editor of the New England Review (1995–2014), Young currently practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He lives in San Francisco.



C. Dale said...

Thank you for sharing my poem.

—C. Dale

Joe said...

You’re welcome, C. Dale. It’s such a beautiful poem, and it really spoke to me in a personal way.