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Black Stone On Top Of Nothing

Written by: Philip Levine | Biography
 Still sober, César Vallejo comes home and finds a black ribbon 
around the apartment building covering the front door.
He puts down his cane, removes his greasy fedora, and begins to untangle the mess.
His neighbors line up behind him wondering what's going on.
A middle-aged woman carrying a loaf of fresh bread asks him to step aside so she can enter, ascend the two steep flights to her apartment, and begin the daily task of preparing lunch for her Monsieur.
Vallejo pretends he hears nothing or perhaps he truly hears nothing so absorbed is he in this odd task consuming his late morning.
Did I forget to mention that no one else can see the black ribbon or understand why his fingers seem so intent on unraveling what is not there? Remember when you were only six and on especially hot days you would descend the shaky steps to the cellar hoping at first that someone, perhaps your mother, would gradually become aware of your absence and feel a sudden seizure of anxiety or terror.
Of course no one noticed.
Mother sat for hours beside the phone waiting, and now and then gazed at summer sunlight blazing through the parlor curtains while below, cool and alone, seated on the damp concrete you watched the same sunlight filter through the rising dust from the two high windows.
Beside the furnace a spider worked brilliantly downward from the burned-out, overhead bulb with a purpose you at that age could still comprehend.
1937 would last only six more months.
It was a Thursday.
Rain was promised but never arrived.
The brown spider worked with or without hope, though when the dusty sunlight caught in the web you beheld a design so perfect it remained in your memory as a model of meaning.
César Vallejo untangled the black ribbon no one else saw and climbed to his attic apartment and gazed out at the sullen rooftops stretching southward toward Spain where his heart died.
I know this.
I've walked by the same building year after year in late evening when the swallows were settling noiselessly in the few sparse trees beside the unused canal.
I've come when the winter snow blinded the distant brooding sky.
I've come just after dawn, I've come in spring, in autumn, in rain, and he was never there.



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