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For The Country Analysis

Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 8

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This has nothing to do with war

or the end of the world. She

dreams there are gray starlings

on the winter lawn and the buds

of next year's oranges alongside

this year's oranges, and the sun

is still up, a watery circle

of fire settling into the sky

at dinner time, but there's no

flame racing through the house

or threatening the bed. When she

wakens the phone is ringing

in a distant room, but she

doesn't go to answer it. No

one is home with her, and the cars

passing before the house hiss

in the rain. "My children!" she

almost says, but there are no

longer children at home, there

are no longer those who would

turn to her, their faces running

with tears, and ask her forgiveness.


The Michigan Central Terminal

the day after victory. Her brother

home from Europe after years

of her mother's terror, and he still

so young but now with the dark

shadow of a beard, holding her

tightly among all the others

calling for their wives or girls.

That night in the front room

crowded with family and neighbors --

he was first back on the block --

he sat cross-legged on the floor

still in his wool uniform, smoking

and drinking as he spoke of passing

high over the dark cities she'd

only read about. He'd wanted to

go back again and again. He'd wanted

to do this for the country,

for this -- a small house with upstairs

bedrooms -- so he'd asked to go

on raid after raid as though

he hungered to kill or be killed.


Today on television men

will enter space and return,

men she cannot imagine.

Lost in gigantic paper suits,

they move like sea creatures.

A voice will crackle from out

there where no voices are

speaking of the great theater

of conquest, of advancing

beyond the simple miracles

of flight, the small ventures

of birds and beasts. The President

will answer with words she

cannot remember having

spoken ever to anyone.


She calls Chicago, but no one

is home. The operator asks

for another number but still

no one answers. Together

they try twenty-one numbers,

and at each no one is ever home.

"Can I call Baltimore?" she asks.

She can, but she knows no one

in Baltimore, no one in

St. Louis, Boston, Washington.

She imagines herself standing

before the glass wall high

over Lake Shore Drive, the cars

below fanning into the city.

East she can see all the way

to Gary and the great gray clouds

of exhaustion rolling over

the lake where her vision ends.

This is where her brother lives.

At such height there's nothing,

no birds, no growing, no noise.

She leans her sweating forehead

against the cold glass, shudders,

and puts down the receiver.


Wherever she turns her garden

is alive and growing. The thin

spears of wild asparagus, shaft

of tulip and flag, green stain

of berry buds along the vines,

even in the eaten leaf of

pepper plants and clipped stalk

of snap bean. Mid-afternoon

and already the grass is dry

under the low sun. Bluejay

and dark capped juncos hidden

in dense foliage waiting

the sun's early fall, when she

returns alone to hear them

call and call back, and finally

in the long shadows settle

down to rest and to silence

in the sudden rising chill.


Two boys are playing ball

in the backyard, throwing it

back and forth in the afternoon's

bright sunshine as a black mongrel

big as a shepherd races

from one to the other. She

hides behind the heavy drapes

in her dining room and listens,

but they're too far. Who are

they? They move about her yard

as though it were theirs. Are they

the sons of her sons? They've

taken off their shirts, and she

sees they're not boys at all --

a dark smudge of hair rises

along the belly of one --, and now

they have the dog down thrashing

on his back, snarling and flashing

his teeth, and they're laughing.


She's eaten dinner talking

back to the television, she's

had coffee and brandy, done

the dishes and drifted into

and out of sleep over a book

she found beside the couch. It's

time for bed, but she goes

instead to the front door, unlocks

it, and steps onto the porch.

Behind her she can hear only

the silence of the house. The lights

throw her shadow down the stairs

and onto the lawn, and she walks

carefully to meet it. Now she's

standing in the huge, whispering

arena of night, hearing her

own breath tearing out of her

like the cries of an animal.

She could keep going into

whatever the darkness brings,

she could find a presence there

her shaking hands could hold

instead of each other.


A dark sister lies beside her

all night, whispering

that it's not a dream, that fire

has entered the spaces between

one face and another.

There will be no wakening.

When she wakens, she can't

catch her own breath, so she yells

for help. It comes in the form

of sleep. They whisper

back and forth, using new words

that have no meaning

to anyone. The aspen shreds

itself against her window.

The oranges she saw that day

in her yard explode

in circles of oil, the few stars

quiet and darken. They go on,

two little girls up long past

their hour, playing in bed.


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