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Last Words

Written by: Philip Levine | Biography
 If the shoe fell from the other foot 
who would hear? If the door 
opened onto a pure darkness 
and it was no dream? If your life 
ended the way a book ends 
with half a blank page and the survivors 
gone off to Africa or madness? 
If my life ended in late spring 
of 1964 while I walked alone 
back down the mountain road? 
I sing an old song to myself.
I study the way the snow remains, gray and damp, in the deep shadows of the firs.
I wonder if the bike is safe hidden just off the highway.
Up ahead the road, black and winding, falls away, and there is the valley where I lived half of my life, spectral and calm.
I sigh with gratitude, and then I feel an odd pain rising through the back of my head, and my eyes go dark.
I bend forward and place my palms on something rough, the black asphalt or a field of stubble, and the movement is that of the penitent just before he stands to his full height with the knowledge of his enormity.
For that moment which will survive the burning of all the small pockets of fat and oil that are the soul, I am the soul stretching into the furthest reaches of my fingers and beyond, glowing like ten candles in the vault of night for anyone who could see, even though it is 12:40 in the afternoon and I have passed from darkness into sunlight so fierce the sweat streams down into my eyes.
I did not rise.
A wind or a stray animal or a group of kids dragged me to the side of the road and turned me over so that my open eyes could flood heaven.
My clothes went skittering down the road without me, ballooning out into any shape, giddy with release.
My coins, my rings, the keys to my house shattered like ice and fell into the mountain thorns and grasses, little bright points that make you think there is magic in everything you see.
No, it can't be, you say, for someone is speaking calmly to you in a voice you know.
Someone alive and confident has put each of these words down exactly as he wants them on the page.
You have lived through years of denial, of public lies, of death falling like snow on any head it chooses.
You're not a child.
You know the real thing.
I am here, as I always was, faithful to a need to speak even when all you hear is a light current of air tickling your ear.
Perhaps.
But what if that dried bundle of leaves and dirt were not dirt and leaves but the spent wafer of a desire to be human? Stop the car, turn off the engine, and stand in the silence above your life.
See how the grass mirrors fire, how a wind rides up the hillside steadily toward you until it surges into your ears like breath coming and going, released from its bondage to blood or speech and denying nothing.



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