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The Present Analysis

Author: Poetry of Philip Levine Type: Poetry Views: 75

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The day comes slowly in the railyardbehind the ice factory. It broods onone cinder after another until eachglows like lead or the eye of a dogpossessed of no inner fire, the brownand greasy pointer who raises his muzzlea moment and sighing lets it thuddown on the loading dock. In no timethe day has crossed two sets of tracks,a semi-trailer with no tractor, and crawleddown three stories of the bottling plantat the end of the alley. It is nowless than five hours until mid-daywhen nothing will be left in doubt,each scrap of news, each banished carton,each forgotten letter, its ink bled of lies,will stare back at the one eye that seesit all and never blinks. But for nowthere is water settling in a clean glasson the shelf beside the razor, the slapof bare feet on the floor above. Soonthe scent of rivers borne across roofafter roof by winds without names,the aroma of opened beds better leftclosed, of mouths without teeth, of lightrustling among the mice droppingsat the back of a bin of potatoes.*The old man who sleeps among the casesof empty bottles in a little nest of ragsand newspapers at the back of the plantis not an old man. He is twenty yearsyounger than I am now putting this downin permanent ink on a yellow legal padduring a crisp morning in October.When he fell from a high pallet, his sleevecaught on a nail and spread his armslike a figure out of myth. His headtore open on a spear of wood, and heswore in French. No, he didn't wanta doctor. He wanted toilet paperand a drink, which were fetched. He usedthe tiny bottle of whisky to straightenout his eyes and the toilet paper to cleanhis pants, fouled in the fall, and he didboth with seven teenage boys looking onin wonder and fear. At last the bloodslowed and caked above his ear, and henever once touched the wound. Instead,in a voice no one could hear, he spoketo himself, probably in French, and smokedsitting back against a pallet, his legsthrust out on the damp cement floor.*In his white coveralls, crisp and pressed,Teddy the Polack told us a fat titwould stop a toothache, two a headache.He told it to anyone who asked, and grinned --the small eyes watering at the corners --as Alcibiades might have grinnedwhen at last he learned that love leadseven the body beloved to a momentin the present when desire calms, the skinglows, the soul takes the light of day,even a working day in 1944.For Baharozian at seventeen the presentwas a gift. Seeing my ashen face,the cold sweats starting, he seated mein a corner of the boxcar and didboth our jobs, stacking the full casesneatly row upon row and whistlingthe songs of Kate Smith. In the bathroomthat night I posed naked before the mirror,the new cross of hair staining my chest,plunging to my groin. That was Wednesday,for every Wednesday ended in darkness.*One of those teenage boys was my brother.That night as we lay in bed, the lightsout, we spoke of Froggy, of how at firstwe thought he would die and how littlehe seemed to care as the blood roseto fill and overflow his ear. Slowlythe long day came over us and our breathquieted and eased at last, and we slept.When I close my eyes now his bare legsglow before me again, pure and lovelyin their perfect whiteness, the buttocksdimpled and firm. I see again the ropeof his sex, unwrinkled, flushed and swaying,the hard flat belly as he raises his shirtto clean himself. He gazes at no oneor nothing, but seems instead to look offinto a darkness I hadn't seen, a poolof shadow that forms before his eyes,in my memory now as solid as onyx.*I began this poem in the presentbecause nothing is past. The ice factory,the bottling plant, the cindered yardall gave way to a low brick buildinga block wide and windowless where theydesigned gun mounts for personnel carriersthat never made it to Korea. My brotherrises early, and on clear days he walksto the corner to have toast and coffee.Seventeen winters have melted into an earthof stone, bottle caps, and old iron to carryoff the hard remains of Froggy Frenchmanwithout a blessing or a stone to bear it.A little spar of him the size of a finger,pointed and speckled as though blood-flaked,washed ashore from Lake Erie near Buffalobefore the rest slipped down the falls outinto the St. Lawrence. He could be at sea,he could be part of an ocean, by nowhe could even be home. This morning Irose later than usual in a great housefull of sunlight, but I believe it camedown step by step on each wet sheetof wooden siding before it crawledfrom the ceiling and touched my pillowto waken me. When I heave myselfout of this chair with a great groan of ageand stand shakily, the three mice stillin the wall. From across the lotsthe wind brings voices I can't make out,scraps of song or sea sounds, daylightbreaking into dust, the perfume of waitingrain, of onions and potatoes frying.


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