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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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