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The Return Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 10

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All afternoon my father drove the country roads

between Detroit and Lansing. What he was looking for

I never learned, no doubt because he never knew himself,

though he would grab any unfamiliar side road

and follow where it led past fields of tall sweet corn

in August or in winter those of frozen sheaves.

Often he'd leave the Terraplane beside the highway

to enter the stunned silence of mid-September,

his eyes cast down for a sign, the only music

his own breath or the wind tracking slowly through

the stalks or riding above the barren ground. Later

he'd come home, his dress shoes coated with dust or mud,

his long black overcoat stained or tattered

at the hem, sit wordless in his favorite chair,

his necktie loosened, and stare at nothing. At first

my brothers and I tried conversation, questions

only he could answer: Why had he gone to war?

Where did he learn Arabic? Where was his father?

I remember none of this. I read it all later,

years later as an old man, a grandfather myself,

in a journal he left my mother with little drawings

of ruined barns and telephone poles, receding

toward a future he never lived, aphorisms

from Montaigne, Juvenal, Voltaire, and perhaps a few

of his own: "He who looks for answers finds questions."

Three times he wrote, "I was meant to be someone else,"

and went on to describe the perfumes of the damp fields.

"It all starts with seeds," and a pencil drawing

of young apple trees he saw somewhere or else dreamed.

I inherited the book when I was almost seventy

and with it the need to return to who we were.

In the Detroit airport I rented a Taurus;

the woman at the counter was bored or crazy:

Did I want company? she asked; she knew every road

from here to Chicago. She had a slight accent,

Dutch or German, long black hair, and one frozen eye.

I considered but decided to go alone,

determined to find what he had never found.

Slowly the autumn morning warmed, flocks of starlings

rose above the vacant fields and blotted out the sun.

I drove on until I found the grove of apple trees

heavy with fruit, and left the car, the motor running,

beside a sagging fence, and entered his life

on my own for maybe the first time. A crow welcomed

me home, the sun rode above, austere and silent,

the early afternoon was cloudless, perfect.

When the crow dragged itself off to another world,

the shade deepened slowly in pools that darkened around

the trees; for a moment everything in sight stopped.

The wind hummed in my good ear, not words exactly,

not nonsense either, nor what I spoke to myself,

just the language creation once wakened to.

I took off my hat, a mistake in the presence

of my father's God, wiped my brow with what I had,

the back of my hand, and marveled at what was here:

nothing at all except the stubbornness of things.


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