The cold beach deserted. My kids
home in a bare house, bundled up
and listening to rock music
pirated from England. My wife
waiting for me in a bar, alone
for an hour over her sherry, and none
of us knows why I have to pace
back and forth on this flat
and birdless stretch of gleaming sand
while the violent air shouts
out its rags of speech. I recall
the calm warm sea of Florida
30 years ago, and my brother
and I staring out in the hope
that someone known and loved
would return out of air and water
and no more, a miracle a kid
could half-believe, could see
as something everyday and possible.
Later I slept alone and dreamed
of the home I never had and wakened
in the dark. A silver light sprayed
across the bed, and the little
rented room ticked toward dawn.
I did not rise. I did not go
to the window and address
the moon. I did not cry
or cry out against the hour
or the loneliness that still
was mine, for I had grown
into the man I am, and I
knew better. A sudden voice
calls out my name or a name
I think is mine. I turn.
The waves have darkened; the sky's
descending all around me. I read
once that the sea would come
to be the color of heaven.
They would be two seas tied
together, and between the two
a third, the sea of my own heart.
I read and believed nothing.
This little beach at the end
of the world is anywhere, and I
stand in a stillness that will last
forever or until the first light
breaks beyond these waters. Don't
be scared, the book said, don't flee
as wave after wave the breakers rise
in darkness toward their ghostly crests,
for he has set a limit to the sea
and he is at your side. The sea
and I breathe in and out as one.
Maybe this is done at last
or for now, this search for what
is never here. Maybe all that
ancient namesake sang is true.
The voice I hear now is
my own night voice, going out
and coming back in an old chant
that calms me, that calms
-- for all I know -- the waves
still lost out there.
Philip Levine's Other Poems
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