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At Bessemer

 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.

by Philip Levine
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