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Late Light Analysis

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

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Rain filled the streets

once a year, rising almost

to door and window sills,

battering walls and roofs

until it cleaned away the mess

we'd made. My father told

me this, he told me it ran

downtown and spilled into

the river, which in turn

emptied finally into the sea.

He said this only once

while I sat on the arm

of his chair and stared out

at the banks of gray snow

melting as the March rain

streaked past. All the rest

of that day passed on

into childhood, into nothing,

or perhaps some portion hung

on in a tiny corner of thought.

Perhaps a clot of cinders

that peppered the front yard

clung to a spar of old weed

or the concrete lip of the curb

and worked its way back under

the new growth spring brought

and is a part of that yard

still. Perhaps light falling

on distant houses becomes

those houses, hunching them

down at dusk like sheep

browsing on a far hillside,

or at daybreak gilds

the roofs until they groan

under the new weight, or

after rain lifts haloes

of steam from the rinsed,

white aluminum siding,

and those houses and all

they contain live that day

in the sight of heaven.


In the blue, winking light

of the International Institute

of Social Revolution

I fell asleep one afternoon

over a book of memoirs

of a Spanish priest who'd

served his own private faith

in a long forgotten war.

An Anarchist and a Catholic,

his remembrances moved

inexplicably from Castilian

to Catalan, a language I

couldn't follow. That dust,

fine and gray, peculiar

to libraries, slipped

between the glossy pages

and my sight, a slow darkness

calmed me, and I forgot

the agony of those men

I'd come to love, forgot

the battles lost and won,

forgot the final trek

over hopeless mountain roads,

defeat, surrender, the vows

to live on. I slept until

the lights came on and off.

A girl was prodding my arm,

for the place was closing.

A slender Indonesian girl

in sweater and American jeans,

her black hair falling

almost to my eyes, she told

me in perfect English

that I could come back,

and she swept up into a folder

the yellowing newspaper stories

and photos spilled out before

me on the desk, the little

chronicles of death themselves

curling and blurring

into death, and took away

the book still unfinished

of a man more confused

even than I, and switched off

the light, and left me alone.


In June of 1975 I wakened

one late afternoon in Amsterdam

in a dim corner of a library.

I had fallen asleep over a book

and was roused by a young girl

whose hand lay on my hand.

I turned my head up and stared

into her brown eyes, deep

and gleaming. She was crying.

For a second I was confused

and started to speak, to offer

some comfort or aid, but I

kept still, for she was crying

for me, for the knowledge

that I had wakened to a life

in which loss was final.

I closed my eyes a moment.

When I opened them she'd gone,

the place was dark. I went

out into the golden sunlight;

the cobbled streets gleamed

as after rain, the street cafes

crowded and alive. Not

far off the great bell

of the Westerkirk tolled

in the early evening. I thought

of my oldest son, who years

before had sailed from here

into an unknown life in Sweden,

a life which failed, of how

he'd gone alone to Copenhagen,

Bremen, where he'd loaded trains,

Hamburg, Munich, and finally

-- sick and weary -- he'd returned

to us. He slept in a corner

of the living room for days,

and woke gaunt and quiet,

still only seventeen, his face

in its own shadows. I thought

of my father on the run

from an older war, and wondered

had he passed through Amsterdam,

had he stood, as I did now,

gazing up at the pale sky,

distant and opaque, for the sign

that never comes. Had he drifted

in the same winds of doubt

and change to another continent,

another life, a family, some

years of peace, an early death.

I walked on by myself for miles

and still the light hung on

as though the day would

never end. The gray canals

darkened slowly, the sky

above the high, narrow houses

deepened into blue, and one

by one the stars began

their singular voyages.


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