Philip Levine

(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

At Bessemer


19 years old and going nowhere,
I got a ride to Bessemer and walked
the night road toward Birmingham
passing dark groups of men cursing
the end of a week like every week.
Out of town I found a small grove
of trees, high narrow pines, and I
sat back against the trunk of one
as the first rains began slowly.
South, the lights of Bessemer glowed
as though a new sun rose there,
but it was midnight and another shift
tooled the rolling mills. I must
have slept awhile, for someone
else was there beside me. I could
see a cigarette's soft light,
and once a hand grazed mine, man
or woman's I never knew. Slowly
I could feel the darkness fill
my eyes and the dream that came was
of a bright world where sunlight
fell on the long even rows of houses
and I looked down from great height
at a burned world I believed
I never had to enter. When
the true sun rose I was stiff
and wet, and there beside me was
the small white proof that someone
rolled and smoked and left me there
unharmed, truly untouched.
A hundred yards off I could hear
cars on the highway. A life
was calling to be lived, but how
and why I had still to learn.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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