Philip Levine (January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)
Where We Live Now
We live here because the houses
are clean, the lawns run
right to the street
and the streets run away.
No one walks here.
No one wakens at night or dies.
The cars sit open-eyed
in the driveways.
The lights are on all day.
At home forever, she has removed
her long foreign names
that stained her face like hair.
She smiles at you, and you think
tears will start from the corners
of her mouth. Such a look
of tenderness, you look away.
She's your sister. Quietly she says,
You're a shit, I'll get you for it.
Money's the same, he says.
He brings it home in white slabs
that smell like soap.
Throws them down
on the table as though
he didn't care.
The children hear
and come in from play glowing
like honey and so hungry.
With it all we have
such a talent for laughing.
We can laugh at anything.
And we forget no one.
She listens to mother
on the phone, and he remembers
the exact phrasing of a child's sorrows,
the oaths taken by bear and tiger
never to forgive.
On Sunday we're having a party.
The children are taken away
in a black Dodge, their faces erased
from the mirrors. Outside a scum
is forming on the afternoon.
A car parks but no one gets out.
Brother is loading the fridge.
Sister is polishing and spraying herself.
Today we're having a party.
For fun we talk about you.
Everything's better for being said.
That's a rule.
This is going to be some long night, she says.
How could you? How could you?
For the love of mother, he says.
There will be no dawn
until the laughing stops. Even the pines
are burning in the dark.
Why do you love me? he says.
You're best to me, she purrs.
In the kitchen, in the closets,
behind the doors, above the toilets,
the calendars are eating it up.
One blackened one watches you
like another window. Why
are you listening? it says.
No one says, There's a war.
No one says, Children are burning.
No one says, Bizniz as usual.
But you have to take it all back.
You have to hunt through your socks
and dirty underwear
and crush each word. If you're serious
you have to sit in the corner
and eat ten new dollars. Eat'em.
Whose rifles are brooding
in the closet? What are
the bolts whispering
back and forth? And the pyramids
of ammunition, so many
hungry mouths to feed.
When you hide in bed
the revolver under the pillow
smiles and shows its teeth.
On the last night the children
waken from the same dream
of leaves burning.
Two girls in the dark
knowing there are no wolves
or bad men in the room.
Only electricity on the loose,
the television screaming at itself,
the dishwasher tearing its heart out.
We're going away. The house
is too warm. We disconnect
Bones, cans, broken dolls, bronzed shoes,
ground down to face powder. Burn
the toilet paper collected in the basement.
Take back the bottles.
The back stairs are raining glass.
Cancel the milk.
You may go now, says Cupboard.
I won't talk,
Your bag is black and waiting.
How can you leave your house?
The stove hunches its shoulders,
the kitchen table stares at the sky.
You're heaving yourself out in the snow
groping toward the front door.
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