Philip Levine

(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

Night Words - Poem by Philip Levine

after Juan Ramon

A child wakens in a cold apartment.
The windows are frosted. Outside he hears
words rising from the streets, words he cannot
understand, and then the semis gear down
for the traffic light on Houston. He sleeps
again and dreams of another city
on a high hill above a wide river
bathed in sunlight, and the dream is his life
as he will live it twenty years from now.
No, no, you say, dreams do not work that way,
they function otherwise. Perhaps in the world
you're right, but on Houston tonight two men
are trying to change a tire as snow gathers
on their shoulders and scalds their ungloved hands.
The older one, the father, is close to tears,
for he's sure his son, who's drunk, is laughing
secretly at him for all his failures
as a man and a father, and he is
laughing to himself but because he's happy
to be alone with his father as he was
years ago in another life where snow
never fell. At last he slips the tire iron
gently from his father's grip and kneels
down in the unstained snow and unbolts the wheel
while he sings of drinking a glass of wine,
the black common wine of Alicante,
in raw sunlight. Now the father joins in,
and the words rise between the falling flakes
only to be transformed into the music
spreading slowly over the oiled surface
of the river that runs through every child's dreams.

Comments about Night Words by Philip Levine

  • Susan Williams (10/21/2015 3:38:00 PM)

    Wow! I really liked this piece. It paints a scene with deftness and layers it with layer after layer of meaning.f (Report) Reply

    28 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Edward Kofi Louis (10/21/2015 7:34:00 AM)

    Dreams are part of us. Nice work. (Report) Reply

  • Terry Craddock (10/21/2015 2:23:00 AM)

    Beautiful, reads like a legendary folk tail set in the modern automotive era; the saga of an aging fallible father feeling the insecurity of his years, beaten down by failures and battle scares fears, the mockery of his drunken son while changing a tire in the cold night snow, but the son though drunk still adores his beloved father from childhood to adulthood. The endearing twists and turns are made so by the revelation that the son still adores, deeply loves his father, witnessed testified to by the way the son

    'slips the tire iron
    gently from his father's grip and kneels
    down in the unstained snow and unbolts the wheel'

    before the unity of their common heritage sung in a much loved song of their cultural origins.

    This poem to me is superb, but then I am now becoming an aging fallible father, feeling the insecurity of his years, in aging changing abilities, in threatening economic times.10+++
    (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: father, snow, river, child, city, son, change, music, work, happy, dream, alone, night, light, life, world, children, rose, running, sleep

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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