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Night Words Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 13

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after Juan Ramon

A child wakens in a cold apartment.

The windows are frosted. Outside he hears

words rising from the streets, words he cannot

understand, and then the semis gear down

for the traffic light on Houston. He sleeps

again and dreams of another city

on a high hill above a wide river

bathed in sunlight, and the dream is his life

as he will live it twenty years from now.

No, no, you say, dreams do not work that way,

they function otherwise. Perhaps in the world

you're right, but on Houston tonight two men

are trying to change a tire as snow gathers

on their shoulders and scalds their ungloved hands.

The older one, the father, is close to tears,

for he's sure his son, who's drunk, is laughing

secretly at him for all his failures

as a man and a father, and he is

laughing to himself but because he's happy

to be alone with his father as he was

years ago in another life where snow

never fell. At last he slips the tire iron

gently from his father's grip and kneels

down in the unstained snow and unbolts the wheel

while he sings of drinking a glass of wine,

the black common wine of Alicante,

in raw sunlight. Now the father joins in,

and the words rise between the falling flakes

only to be transformed into the music

spreading slowly over the oiled surface

of the river that runs through every child's dreams.


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