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Night Words

Written by: Philip Levine | Biography
 after Juan Ramon 

A child wakens in a cold apartment. 
The windows are frosted. Outside he hears 
words rising from the streets, words he cannot 
understand, and then the semis gear down 
for the traffic light on Houston. He sleeps 
again and dreams of another city 
on a high hill above a wide river 
bathed in sunlight, and the dream is his life 
as he will live it twenty years from now. 
No, no, you say, dreams do not work that way, 
they function otherwise. Perhaps in the world 
you're right, but on Houston tonight two men 
are trying to change a tire as snow gathers 
on their shoulders and scalds their ungloved hands. 
The older one, the father, is close to tears, 
for he's sure his son, who's drunk, is laughing 
secretly at him for all his failures 
as a man and a father, and he is 
laughing to himself but because he's happy 
to be alone with his father as he was 
years ago in another life where snow 
never fell. At last he slips the tire iron 
gently from his father's grip and kneels 
down in the unstained snow and unbolts the wheel 
while he sings of drinking a glass of wine, 
the black common wine of Alicante, 
in raw sunlight. Now the father joins in, 
and the words rise between the falling flakes 
only to be transformed into the music 
spreading slowly over the oiled surface 
of the river that runs through every child's dreams.