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Best Famous Philip Levine Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Philip Levine poems. This is a select list of the best famous Philip Levine poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Philip Levine poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Philip Levine poems.

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Written by Philip Levine |

Last Words

 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.
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.

Written by Philip Levine |

Those Were The Days

 The sun came up before breakfast, 
perfectly round and yellow, and we 
dressed in the soft light and shook out 
our long blond curls and waited 
for Maid to brush them flat and place 
the part just where it belonged.
We came down the carpeted stairs one step at a time, in single file, gleaming in our sailor suits, two four year olds with unscratched knees and scrubbed teeth.
Breakfast came on silver dishes with silver covers and was set in table center, and Mother handed out the portions of eggs and bacon, toast and juice.
We could hear the ocean, not far off, and boats firing up their engines, and the shouts of couples in white on the tennis courts.
I thought, Yes, this is the beginning of another summer, and it will go on until the sun tires of us or the moon rises in its place on a silvered dawn and no one wakens.
My brother flung his fork on the polished wooden floor and cried out, "My eggs are cold, cold!" and turned his plate over.
I laughed out loud, and Mother slapped my face, and when I cleared my eyes the table was bare of even a simple white cloth, and the steaming plates had vanished.
My brother said, "It's time," and we struggled into our galoshes and snapped them up, slumped into our pea coats, one year older now and on our way to the top through the freezing rains of the end of November, lunch boxes under our arms, tight fists pocketed, out the door and down the front stoop, heads bent low, tacking into the wind.

Written by Philip Levine |

The Rat Of Faith

 A blue jay poses on a stake 
meant to support an apple tree 
newly planted.
A strong wind on this clear cold morning barely ruffles his tail feathers.
When he turns his attention toward me, I face his eyes without blinking.
A week ago my wife called me to come see this same bird chase a rat into the thick leaves of an orange tree.
We came as close as we could and watched the rat dig his way into an orange, claws working meticulously.
Then he feasted, face deep into the meal, and afterwards washed himself in juice, paws scrubbing soberly.
Surprised by the whiteness of the belly, how open it was and vulnerable, I suggested I fetch my .
She said, "Do you want to kill him?" I didn't.
There are oranges enough for him, the jays, and us, across the fence in the yard next door oranges rotting on the ground.
There is power in the name rat, a horror that may be private.
When I was a boy and heir to tales of savagery, of sleeping men and kids eaten half away before they could wake, I came to know that horror.
I was afraid that left alive the animal would invade my sleep, grown immense now and powerful with the need to eat flesh.
I was wrong.
Night after night I wake from dreams of a city like no other, the bright city of beauty I thought I'd lost when I lost my faith that one day we would come into our lives.
The wind gusts and calms shaking this miniature budding apple tree that in three months has taken to the hard clay of our front yard.
In one hop the jay turns his back on me, dips as though about to drink the air itself, and flies.

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Written by Philip Levine |

The Mercy

 The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island 
Eighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy.
" She remembers trying to eat a banana without first peeling it and seeing her first orange in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her with a red bandana and taught her the word, "orange," saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening with the black waters calming as night came on, then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space without limit rushing off to the corners of creation.
She prayed in Russian and Yiddish to find her family in New York, prayers unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness before she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloat while smallpox raged among the passengers and crew until the dead were buried at sea with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a book I located in a windowless room of the library on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days offshore in quarantine before the passengers disembarked.
There a story ends.
Other ships arrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune" registered as Danish, "Umberto IV," the list goes on for pages, November gives way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig under towns in western Pennsylvania only to rediscover the same nightmare they left at home.
A nine-year-old girl travels all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat again and again while the juice spills over your chin, you can wipe it away with the back of your hands and you can never get enough.

Written by Philip Levine |

The Dead

 A good man is seized by the police
and spirited away.
Months later someone brags that he shot him once through the back of the head with a Walther 7.
65, and his life ended just there.
Those who loved him go on searching the cafés in the Barrio Chino or the bars near the harbor.
A comrade swears he saw him at a distance buying two kilos of oranges in the market of San José and called out, "Andrés, Andrés," but instead of turning to a man he'd known since child- hood and opening his great arms wide, he scurried off, the oranges tumbling out of the damp sack, one after another, a short bright trail left on the sidewalk to say, Farewell! Farewell to what? I ask.
I asked then and I ask now.
I first heard the story fifty years ago; it became part of the mythology I hauled with me from one graveyard to another, this belief in the power of my yearning.
The dead are every- where, crowding the narrow streets that jut out from the wide boulevard on which we take our morning walk.
They stand in the cold shadows of men and women come to sell themselves to anyone, they stride along beside me and stop when I stop to admire the bright garlands or the little pyramids of fruit, they reach a hand out to give money or to take change, they say "Good morning" or "Thank you," they turn with me and retrace my steps back to the bare little room I've come to call home.
Patiently, they stand beside me staring out over the soiled roofs of the world until the light fades and we are all one or no one.
They ask for so little, a prayer now and then, a toast to their health which is our health, a few lies no one reads incised on a dull plaque between a pharmacy and a sports store, the least little daily miracle.

Written by Philip Levine |

The Return

 All afternoon my father drove the country roads
between Detroit and Lansing.
What he was looking for I never learned, no doubt because he never knew himself, though he would grab any unfamiliar side road and follow where it led past fields of tall sweet corn in August or in winter those of frozen sheaves.
Often he'd leave the Terraplane beside the highway to enter the stunned silence of mid-September, his eyes cast down for a sign, the only music his own breath or the wind tracking slowly through the stalks or riding above the barren ground.
Later he'd come home, his dress shoes coated with dust or mud, his long black overcoat stained or tattered at the hem, sit wordless in his favorite chair, his necktie loosened, and stare at nothing.
At first my brothers and I tried conversation, questions only he could answer: Why had he gone to war? Where did he learn Arabic? Where was his father? I remember none of this.
I read it all later, years later as an old man, a grandfather myself, in a journal he left my mother with little drawings of ruined barns and telephone poles, receding toward a future he never lived, aphorisms from Montaigne, Juvenal, Voltaire, and perhaps a few of his own: "He who looks for answers finds questions.
" Three times he wrote, "I was meant to be someone else," and went on to describe the perfumes of the damp fields.
"It all starts with seeds," and a pencil drawing of young apple trees he saw somewhere or else dreamed.
I inherited the book when I was almost seventy and with it the need to return to who we were.
In the Detroit airport I rented a Taurus; the woman at the counter was bored or crazy: Did I want company? she asked; she knew every road from here to Chicago.
She had a slight accent, Dutch or German, long black hair, and one frozen eye.
I considered but decided to go alone, determined to find what he had never found.
Slowly the autumn morning warmed, flocks of starlings rose above the vacant fields and blotted out the sun.
I drove on until I found the grove of apple trees heavy with fruit, and left the car, the motor running, beside a sagging fence, and entered his life on my own for maybe the first time.
A crow welcomed me home, the sun rode above, austere and silent, the early afternoon was cloudless, perfect.
When the crow dragged itself off to another world, the shade deepened slowly in pools that darkened around the trees; for a moment everything in sight stopped.
The wind hummed in my good ear, not words exactly, not nonsense either, nor what I spoke to myself, just the language creation once wakened to.
I took off my hat, a mistake in the presence of my father's God, wiped my brow with what I had, the back of my hand, and marveled at what was here: nothing at all except the stubbornness of things.

Written by David Lehman |


 for Jim Cummins 

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform.
Donna dressed like Wallace Stevens in a seersucker summer suit.
To town came Ted Berrigan, saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell.
" But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's latest: the Pulitzer.
A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, pour something into Donna's drink.
"In the Walt Whitman Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, pulling on a Chesterfield.
Everyone laughed, except T.
I asked for directions.
"You turn right on Gertrude Stein, then bear left.
Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine and you're there," Jim said.
When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan with cigarette ash in his beard.
Graffiti about Anne Sexton decorated the men's room walls.
Beth had bought a quart of Walt Whitman.
Donna looked blank.
"Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as Walt Whitman.
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan.
" Donna was candid.
"When the spirit of Ted Berrigan comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, while he stood dejected at the xerox machine.
Anne Sexton came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act.
"I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt Whitman.
" Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan.
" The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, up a point and a half on strong earnings.
Marvin Bell ended the day unchanged.
Analyst Richard Howard recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, not both.
Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.

Written by Philip Levine |

On The Meeting Of García Lorca And Hart Crane

 Brooklyn, 1929.
Of course Crane's been drinking and has no idea who this curious Andalusian is, unable even to speak the language of poetry.
The young man who brought them together knows both Spanish and English, but he has a headache from jumping back and forth from one language to another.
For a moment's relief he goes to the window to look down on the East River, darkening below as the early light comes on.
Something flashes across his sight, a double vision of such horror he has to slap both his hands across his mouth to keep from screaming.
Let's not be frivolous, let's not pretend the two poets gave each other wisdom or love or even a good time, let's not invent a dialogue of such eloquence that even the ants in your own house won't forget it.
The two greatest poetic geniuses alive meet, and what happens? A vision comes to an ordinary man staring at a filthy river.
Have you ever had a vision? Have you ever shaken your head to pieces and jerked back at the image of your young son falling through open space, not from the stern of a ship bound from Vera Cruz to New York but from the roof of the building he works on? Have you risen from bed to pace until dawn to beg a merciless God to take these pictures away? Oh, yes, let's bless the imagination.
It gives us the myths we live by.
Let's bless the visionary power of the human— the only animal that's got it—, bless the exact image of your father dead and mine dead, bless the images that stalk the corners of our sight and will not let go.
The young man was my cousin, Arthur Lieberman, then a language student at Columbia, who told me all this before he died quietly in his sleep in 1983 in a hotel in Perugia.
A good man, Arthur, he survived graduate school, later came home to Detroit and sold pianos right through the Depression.
He loaned my brother a used one to compose his hideous songs on, which Arthur thought were genius.
What an imagination Arthur had!

Written by Philip Levine |

In The New Sun

 Filaments of light 
slant like windswept rain.
The orange seller hawks into the sky, a man with a hat stops below my window and shakes his tassels.
Awake in Tetuan, the room filling with the first colors, and water running in a tub.
* A row of sparkling carp iced in the new sun, odor of first love, of childhood, the fingers held to the nose, or hours while the clock hummed.
The fat woman in the orange smock places tiny greens at mouth and tail as though she remembered or yearned instead for forests, deep floors of needles, and the hushed breath.
* Blue nosed cannisters as fat as barrels silently slipping by.
"Nitro," he says.
On the roof he shows me where Reuban lay down to fuck-off and never woke.
"We're takin little whiffs all the time.
" Slivers of glass work their way through the canvas gloves and burn.
Lifting my black glasses in the chemical light, I stop to squeeze one out and the asbestos glows like a hand in moonlight or a face in dreams.
* Pinpoints of blue along the arms, light rushing down across the breasts missing the dry shadows under them.
She stretches and rises on her knees and smiles and far down to the sudden embroidery of curls the belly smiles that three times stretched slowly moonward in a hill of child.
* Sun through the cracked glass, bartender at the cave end peeling a hard-boiled egg.
Four in the afternoon, the dogs asleep, the river must bridge seven parched flats to Cordoba by nightfall.
It will never make it.
I will never make it.
Like the old man in gray corduroy asleep under the stifled fan, I have no more moves, stranded on an empty board.
* From the high hill behind Ford Rouge, we could see the ore boats pulling down river, the rail yards, and the smoking mountain.
East, the city spreading toward St.
Clair, miles of houses, factories, shops burning in the still white snow.
"Share this with your brother," he said, and it was always winter and a dark snow.

Written by Philip Levine |

Among Children

 I walk among the rows of bowed heads--
the children are sleeping through fourth grade
so as to be ready for what is ahead,
the monumental boredom of junior high
and the rush forward tearing their wings
loose and turning their eyes forever inward.
These are the children of Flint, their fathers work at the spark plug factory or truck bottled water in 5 gallon sea-blue jugs to the widows of the suburbs.
You can see already how their backs have thickened, how their small hands, soiled by pig iron, leap and stutter even in dreams.
I would like to sit down among them and read slowly from The Book of Job until the windows pale and the teacher rises out of a milky sea of industrial scum, her gowns streaming with light, her foolish words transformed into song, I would like to arm each one with a quiver of arrows so that they might rush like wind there where no battle rages shouting among the trumpets, Hal Ha! How dear the gift of laughter in the face of the 8 hour day, the cold winter mornings without coffee and oranges, the long lines of mothers in old coats waiting silently where the gates have closed.
Ten years ago I went among these same children, just born, in the bright ward of the Sacred Heart and leaned down to hear their breaths delivered that day, burning with joy.
There was such wonder in their sleep, such purpose in their eyes dosed against autumn, in their damp heads blurred with the hair of ponds, and not one turned against me or the light, not one said, I am sick, I am tired, I will go home, not one complained or drifted alone, unloved, on the hardest day of their lives.
Eleven years from now they will become the men and women of Flint or Paradise, the majors of a minor town, and I will be gone into smoke or memory, so I bow to them here and whisper all I know, all I will never know.

Written by Philip Levine |

Black Stone On Top Of Nothing

 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.

Written by Philip Levine |

What Work Is

 We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park.
For work.
You know what work is--if you're old enough to read this you know what work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you.
This is about waiting, shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist into your hair, blurring your vision until you think you see your own brother ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers, and of course it's someone else's brother, narrower across the shoulders than yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin that does not hide the stubbornness, the sad refusal to give in to rain, to the hours wasted waiting, to the knowledge that somewhere ahead a man is waiting who will say, "No, we're not hiring today," for any reason he wants.
You love your brother, now suddenly you can hardly stand the love flooding you for your brother, who's not beside you or behind or ahead because he's home trying to sleep off a miserable night shift at Cadillac so he can get up before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing Wagner, the opera you hate most, the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him you loved him, held his wide shoulders, opened your eyes wide and said those words, and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never done something so simple, so obvious, not because you're too young or too dumb, not because you're jealous or even mean or incapable of crying in the presence of another man, no, just because you don't know what work is.

Written by Philip Levine |

You Can Have It

 My brother comes home from work 
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop one by one.
You can have it, he says.
The moonlight streams in the window and his unshaven face is whitened like the face of the moon.
He will sleep long after noon and waken to find me gone.
Thirty years will pass before I remember that moment when suddenly I knew each man has one brother who dies when he sleeps and sleeps when he rises to face this life, and that together they are only one man sharing a heart that always labours, hands yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it? All night at the ice plant he had fed the chute its silvery blocks, and then I stacked cases of orange soda for the children of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time with always two more waiting.
We were twenty for such a short time and always in the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt and sweat.
I think now we were never twenty.
In 1948 the city of Detroit, founded by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died, no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace, for there was no such year, and now that year has fallen off all the old newspapers, calendars, doctors' appointments, bonds wedding certificates, drivers licenses.
The city slept.
The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers racing in the gutters.
Then the bright grass rose between the thousands of cracked squares, and that grass died.
I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then to the coming one.
Give me back the moon with its frail light falling across a face.
Give me back my young brother, hard and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse for God and burning eyes that look upon all creation and say, You can have it.

Written by Philip Levine |

Passing Out

 The doctor fingers my bruise.
"Magnificent," he says, "black at the edges and purple cored.
" Seated, he spies for clues, gingerly probing the slack flesh, while I, standing, fazed, pull for air, losing the battle.
Faced by his aged diploma, the heavy head of the X- ray, and the iron saddle, I grow lonely.
He finds my secrets common and my sex neither objectionable nor lovely, though he is on the hunt for significance.
The shelved cutlery twinkles behind glass, and I am on the way out, "an instance of the succumbed through extreme fantasy.
" He is alarmed at last, and would raise me, but I am floorward in a dream of lowered trousers, unarmed and weakly fighting to shut the window of my drawers.
There are others in the room, voices of women above white oxfords; and the old floor, the friendly linoleum, departs.
I whisper, "my love," and am safe, tabled, sniffing spirits of ammonia in the land of my fellows.
"Open house!" my openings sing: pores, nose, anus let go their charges, a shameless flow into the outer world; and the ceiling, equipped with intelligence, surveys my produce.
The doctor is thrilled by my display, for he is half the slave of necessity; I, enormous in my need, justify his sciences.
"We have alternatives," he says, "Removal.
" (And my blood whitens as on their dull trays the tubes dance.
I must study the dark bellows of the gas machine, the painless maker.
) ".
and learning to live with it.
" Oh, but I am learning fast to live with any pain, ache, growth to keep myself intact; and in imagination I hug my bruise like an old Pooh Bear, already attuned to its moods.
"Oh, my dark one, tell of the coming of cold and of Kings, ancient and ruined.

Written by Philip Levine |

M. Degas Teaches Art and Science At Durfee Intermediate School--Detroit 1942

 He made a line on the blackboard,
one bold stroke from right to left
diagonally downward and stood back
to ask, looking as always at no one
in particular, "What have I done?"
From the back of the room Freddie
shouted, "You've broken a piece
of chalk.
" M.
Degas did not smile.
"What have I done?" he repeated.
The most intellectual students looked down to study their desks except for Gertrude Bimmler, who raised her hand before she spoke.
Degas, you have created the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle.
" Degas mused.
Everyone knew that Gertrude could not be incorrect.
"It is possible," Louis Warshowsky added precisely, "that you have begun to represent the roof of a barn.
" I remember that it was exactly twenty minutes past eleven, and I thought at worst this would go on another forty minutes.
It was early April, the snow had all but melted on the playgrounds, the elms and maples bordering the cracked walks shivered in the new winds, and I believed that before I knew it I'd be swaggering to the candy store for a Milky Way.
Degas pursed his lips, and the room stilled until the long hand of the clock moved to twenty one as though in complicity with Gertrude, who added confidently, "You've begun to separate the dark from the dark.
" I looked back for help, but now the trees bucked and quaked, and I knew this could go on forever.