Tuesday, June 26, 2007

439. The Face - Philip Levine

A strange wind off the night.
I have come here to talk
to you at last, here
in an empty hotel room
half the world away from home.
Our tracks have crossed
how many times—a dozen
at least—and yet it’s more
than forty years since I saw
you, solemn and hurt, gazing
from your favorite window
at the night that would
soon flood your eyes and darken
the living veins. Below,
the city is almost
asleep. An old man, no
taller than a boy, mumbles
drunkenly on his way,
and then only a sentry
passes from time to time,
his head sunk to his chest,
his eyes closed against
the strange summer cold.

We should all be asleep.
The hour is good for
nothing else, and yet
I cannot sleep because
suddenly today I caught
your presence beside me
on the street as I hadn’t
before in all these years
A tall man laid aside
his paper and stared at me,
a man no older, than I,
with the long sad face
that passed from you
to me. I kept walking,
feeling his eyes on me,
and when I turned at last
he was gone, and the bench
filled with dirty children.
I went back—but no—
he was gone, and wherever
I walked I felt those eyes
on me and felt somehow
a time had come when
we might speak at last.

And so I do. I say, Father,
the years have brought
me here, still your son;
they have brought me
to a life I cannot
understand. I’m silent.
A ship is mooring
in the great harbor,
and the only voice
that comes back is the faint
after-ringing of my own.
I say, Father, the dark
moon above this battered city
must once have guided you
across the twelve frontiers
you crossed to save
your life. It leads me
nowhere, for I’m a free man,
alone as you were,
but going nowhere. I, too,
have lost my three sons
to America, I, too, have climbed
the long hillsides
of Spain in early light
as our forefathers did,
and gazed down at the sea,
deep and silent. I prayed
for some small hope,
which never came. I know
the life you lost. I
have it here, Father,
where you left it, in
the long face of Spain,
in these hands, long
and broken like your own,
in the silence collecting
between each ringing
of my heart, the silence
you anoint me with each day.

Below, the sentry passes
once more in a new light,
for morning is graying
the streets of this quarter.
He wipes his nose on
the rough green wool
of his sleeve and stamps
his feet. Spain will waken
soon to street cries, to
the cries of children,
the cries of the lost men
and women of Barcelona
naming their despair.
I will walk among them,
tired and useless. Today
I will not talk, not
even to myself, for
it is time to listen,
as though some secret
message came blaring
over the megaphones,
or a voice mumbled below
the waves of traffic, as though
one word mattered more
than another in this world,
in this city, broken and stained,
which is the home of no one,
though it shouts out all
our names. I will listen
as though you spoke and told
me all you never knew
of why the earth takes
back all she gives and
even that comes to be enough.

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