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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.

Poem by Philip Levine
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