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Magpiety Analysis

Author: Poetry of Philip Levine Type: Poetry Views: 145

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You pull over to the shoulderof the two-lane

road and sit for a moment wonderingwhere you were going

in such a hurry. The valley is burnedout, the oaks

dream day and night of rainthat never comes.

At noon or just before noonthe short shadows

are gray and hold what littlelife survives.

In the still heat the engineclicks, although

the real heat is hours ahead.You get out and step

cautiously over a low wirefence and begin

the climb up the yellowed hill.A hundred feet

ahead the trunks of twofallen oaks

rust; something passes overthem, a lizard

perhaps or a trick of sight.The next tree

you pass is unfamiliar,the trunk dark,

as black as an olive's; the lowbranches stab

out, gnarled and dull: a carobor a Joshua tree.

A sudden flaring-up ahead,a black-winged

bird rises from nowhere,white patches

underneath its wings, and is gone.You hear your own

breath catching in your ears,a roaring, a sea

sound that goes on and onuntil you lean

forward to place both hands-- fingers spread --

into the bleached grassesand let your knees

slowly down. Your breath slowsand you know

you're back in centralCalifornia

on your way to San Franciscoor the coastal towns

with their damp sea breezesyou haven't

even a hint of. But firstyou must cross

the Pacheco Pass. Peopleexpect you, and yet

you remain, still leaning forwardinto the grasses

that if you could hear themwould tell you

all you need to know aboutthe life ahead.<h1>...</h1>Out of a sense of modestyor to avoid the truth

I've been writing in the secondperson, but in truth

it was I, not you, who pulledthe green Ford

over to the side of the roadand decided to get

up that last hill to lookback at the valley

he'd come to call home.I can't believe

that man, only thirty-two,less than half

my age, could be the personfashioning these lines.

That was late July of '60.I had heard

all about magpies, how theysnooped and meddled

in the affairs of others, notbirds so much

as people. If you daredto remove a wedding

ring as you washed awaythe stickiness of love

or the cherished odors of anotherman or woman,

as you turned awayfrom the mirror

having admired your new-foundpotency -- humming

"My Funny Valentine" or"Body and Soul" --

to reach for a rough towelor some garment

on which to dry yourself,he would enter

the open window behind youthat gave gratefully

onto the fields and the roadsbathed in dawn --

he, the magpie -- and snatchup the ring

in his hard beak and shoulderhis way back

into the currents of the worldon his way

to the only person who couldchange your life:

a king or a bride or an old womanasleep on her porch.<h1>...</h1>Can you believe the birdstood beside you

just long enough, though farsmaller than you

but fearless in a waya man or woman

could never be? An apparitionwith two dark

and urgent eyes and motionsso quick and precise

they were barely motions at all?When he was gone

you turned, alarmed by the rustlingof oily feathers

and the curious pungency,and were sure

you'd heard him say the wordsthat could explain

the meaning of blond grassesburning on a hillside

beneath the hands of a manin the middle of

his life caught in the postureof prayer. I'd

heard that a magpie could talk,so I waited

for the words, knowing withoutthe least doubt

what he'd do, for up aheadan old woman

waited on her wide front porch.My children

behind her house playedin a silted pond

poking sticks at the slowcarp that flashed

in the fallen sunlight. Youare thirty-two

only once in your life, and thoughJuly comes

too quickly, you pray forthe overbearing

heat to pass. It does, andthe year turns

before it holds still foreven a moment.

Beyond the last carobor Joshua tree

the magpie flashes his suddenwings; a second

flames and vanishes into the paleblue air.

July 23, 1960.I lean down

closer to hear the burned grasseswhisper all I

need to know. The words risearound me, separate

and finite. A yellow dustrises and stops

caught in the noon's driving light.Three ants pass

across the back of my reddenedright hand.

Everything is speaking or singing.We're still here.


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