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Last Words Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 9

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If the shoe fell from the other foot

who would hear? If the door

opened onto a pure darkness

and it was no dream? If your life

ended the way a book ends

with half a blank page and the survivors

gone off to Africa or madness?

If my life ended in late spring

of 1964 while I walked alone

back down the mountain road?

I sing an old song to myself. I study

the way the snow remains, gray

and damp, in the deep shadows of the firs.

I wonder if the bike is safe hidden

just off the highway. Up ahead

the road, black and winding, falls

away, and there is the valley where

I lived half of my life, spectral

and calm. I sigh with gratitude,

and then I feel an odd pain rising

through the back of my head,

and my eyes go dark. I bend forward

and place my palms on something rough,

the black asphalt or a field of stubble,

and the movement is that of the penitent

just before he stands to his full height

with the knowledge of his enormity.

For that moment which will survive

the burning of all the small pockets

of fat and oil that are the soul,

I am the soul stretching into

the furthest reaches of my fingers

and beyond, glowing like ten candles

in the vault of night for anyone

who could see, even though it is

12:40 in the afternoon and I

have passed from darkness into sunlight

so fierce the sweat streams down

into my eyes. I did not rise.

A wind or a stray animal or a group

of kids dragged me to the side

of the road and turned me over

so that my open eyes could flood heaven.

My clothes went skittering down

the road without me, ballooning

out into any shape, giddy

with release. My coins, my rings,

the keys to my house shattered

like ice and fell into the mountain

thorns and grasses, little bright points

that make you think there is magic

in everything you see. No, it can't

be, you say, for someone is speaking

calmly to you in a voice you know.

Someone alive and confident has put

each of these words down exactly

as he wants them on the page.

You have lived through years

of denial, of public lies, of death

falling like snow on any head

it chooses. You're not a child.

You know the real thing. I am

here, as I always was, faithful

to a need to speak even when all

you hear is a light current of air

tickling your ear. Perhaps.

But what if that dried bundle

of leaves and dirt were not dirt

and leaves but the spent wafer

of a desire to be human? Stop the car,

turn off the engine, and stand

in the silence above your life. See

how the grass mirrors fire, how

a wind rides up the hillside

steadily toward you until it surges

into your ears like breath coming

and going, released from its bondage

to blood or speech and denying nothing.


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