Sunday, September 30, 2012

"I have no strength...From which to speak..."


I wonder sometimes what you must think, reading these words here, Gentle Reader. Why poems, and why write so much of love?
Why not, Gentle Reader? Why not write of that thing that makes so many mad? That drives so many to do so much?
Or perhaps, that drives so many to the point that they can not do any more.
I am a man driven, I suppose, and so I write. Most often on love.
A big thing, love. As big, perhaps as a windmill. And as hard to pin down, with a lance, or a word. Because maybe there are different kinds of love, or maybe different people love differently. There are certainly different kinds of poems about love, as I'm sure you may have noticed, reading these words here, as you do.
And this one, this one is different. But it talks of a kind of love, and what it says, Gentle Reader, just might apply to other kinds as well.


BY PHILIP LEVINE


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.


Love might not always be work for you, Gentle reader. And stories of horses, and of windmills, for that matter, can't simply be bandied about. One always needs to be careful with stories, I know. But maybe there are different kinds of love, and maybe sometimes, you need to know work to know them. But they're there, and they are real, and they are good. So maybe Wagner is beautiful. More likely, Wagner is Wagner, and it's beautiful because some one you love loves it. And some days, those long days, the grinding ones, the foot-shuffling, rainy ones, it's no wonder we look for the beauty in the world, that our thought turn to those we love, and why we love them. Life sometimes gives us "the same sad slouch, the grin that does not hide the stubbornness, the sad refusal to give in to rain, to the hours of wasted waiting," but love sometimes gives us Wagner. I read these words here, and I think of love, even though you are not my brother.
What do you think, Gentle Reader, when you read these words here? Do you think of love, or of me?