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At Bessemer

Written by: Philip Levine | Biography
 19 years old and going nowhere, 
I got a ride to Bessemer and walked 
the night road toward Birmingham 
passing dark groups of men cursing 
the end of a week like every week. 
Out of town I found a small grove 
of trees, high narrow pines, and I 
sat back against the trunk of one 
as the first rains began slowly. 
South, the lights of Bessemer glowed 
as though a new sun rose there, 
but it was midnight and another shift 
tooled the rolling mills. I must 
have slept awhile, for someone 
else was there beside me. I could 
see a cigarette's soft light, 
and once a hand grazed mine, man 
or woman's I never knew. Slowly 
I could feel the darkness fill 
my eyes and the dream that came was 
of a bright world where sunlight 
fell on the long even rows of houses 
and I looked down from great height 
at a burned world I believed 
I never had to enter. When 
the true sun rose I was stiff 
and wet, and there beside me was 
the small white proof that someone 
rolled and smoked and left me there 
unharmed, truly untouched. 
A hundred yards off I could hear 
cars on the highway. A life 
was calling to be lived, but how 
and why I had still to learn.



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