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Then Analysis

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

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A solitary apartment house, the last one

before the boulevard ends and a dusty road

winds its slow way out of town. On the third floor

through the dusty windows Karen beholds

the elegant couples walking arm in arm

in the public park. It is Saturday afternoon,

and she is waiting for a particular young man

whose name I cannot now recall, if name

he ever had. She runs the thumb of her left hand

across her finger tips and feels the little tags

of flesh the needle made that morning at work

and wonders if he will feel them. She loves her work,

the unspooling of the wide burgundy ribbons

that tumble across her lap, the delicate laces,

the heavy felts for winter, buried now that spring

is rising in the trees. She recalls a black hat

hidden in a deep drawer in the back of the shop.

She made it in February when the snows piled

as high as her waist, and the river stopped at noon,

and she thought she would die. She had tried it on,

a small, close-fitting cap, almost nothing,

pinned down at front and back. Her hair tumbled

out at the sides in dark rags. When she turned

it around, the black felt cupped her forehead

perfectly, the teal feathers trailing out behind,

twin cool jets of flame. Suddenly he is here.

As she goes to the door, the dark hat falls back

into the closed drawer of memory to wait

until the trees are bare and the days shut down

abruptly at five. They touch, cheek to cheek,

and only there, both bodies stiffly arched apart.

As she draws her white gloves on, she can smell

the heat rising from his heavy laundered shirt,

she can almost feel the weight of the iron

hissing across the collar. It's cool out, he says,

cooler than she thinks. There are tiny dots

of perspiration below his hairline. What a day

for strolling in the park! Refusing the chair

by the window, he seems to have no time,

as though this day were passing forever,

although it is barely after two of a late May

afternoon a whole year before the modern era.

Of course she'll take a jacket, she tells him,

of course she was planning to, and she opens her hands,

the fingers spread wide to indicate the enormity

of his folly, for she has on only a blouse,

protection against nothing. In the bedroom

she considers a hat, something dull and proper

as a rebuke, but shaking out her glowing hair

she decides against it. The jacket is there,

the arms spread out on the bed, the arms

of a dressed doll or a soldier at attention

or a boy modelling his first suit, my own arms

when at six I stood beside my sister waiting

to be photographed. She removes her gloves

to feel her balled left hand pass through the silk

of the lining, and then her right, fingers open.

As she buttons herself in, she watches

a slow wind moving through the planted fields

behind the building. She stops and stares.

What was that dark shape she saw a moment

trembling between the sheaves? The sky lowers,

the small fat cypresses by the fields' edge

part, and something is going. Is that the way

she too must take? The world blurs before her eyes

or her sight is failing. I cannot take her hand,

then or now, and lead her to a resting place

where our love matters. She stands frozen

before the twenty-third summer of her life,

someone I know, someone I will always know.


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