Richard Levine, a retired teacher and Working Families Party activist, is the author of The Cadence of Mercy, A Tide of a Hundred Mountains, That Country’s Soul, A Language Full of Wars and Songs, Snapshots from a Battle, and an anti-fracking song. He is learning to steward a forest.
Portraits of Unrequited Love
What of the woman on the park bench,
staring up, her face an inflated tear?
Of all the mild beasts in our community,
her story grieves me. I think heartbreak.
I think loss. In my mind, I write her biography
of unrequited love. I don’t know anything,
but writing hers keeps me from wishing
I was happier with my own heart’s chapters.
In that way, at least, she is so good to me.
I see her breasts’ age-sag. Other than that,
what can I know of or hope for her? I jog
by, but she doesn’t notice me noticing her.
How can she know how much she has
meant to me, or what I’m running from?
The sky was light and the river dark.
Then, they transfused. Rooftops
drew on the river’s ductile coat,
and a faint blush hovered over
what could be seen of street traffic.
In the ever expanding universe
of combustion and commerce,
rouged clouds kissed the sharpening
skyline silhouette as lights came alive
in every window, and someone too long
in shadows stepped onto the stage
with a rifle or daisy chain of dynamite sticks,
strapped to their ribcage and dozens
of other lives. Thousands of homebound
commuters listened to the same accounts,
the story teased out, crossing the same bridge,
headlights on, the sequin-backed serpent
of workaday routine inching along home.
The river and the sky soon become one murk,
and the homeless, like ancients, tense
against the night’s fanged slither and prowl.
for Galway Kinnell, 1927-2014
For eyes that own aim and vision;
for a voice hungry to speak
for hunter and prey,
for hands to dress the body
to the bone and drum with femurs.
For dancing barefooted, wildly naked.
For a big-hearted butcher and cook.
For loving the earth
as a tongue at a lover’s breast.
For facing up to the moon’s stony
lure and firm reining of tides;
for smiling in pastel-light caresses.
For blessing curiosity, the divining
of all divine senses;
for the plain and the trinity
of birds eating worms eating leaves,
for all that consumes.
For all this, for all this.
A Moment Out of Time
We’d found a place no one following road signs could.
Undiscovered, but not undiscoverable.
Our slow sudden presence and a heron’s great wings
rowed the virid world out of its people-less dream.
The synch of the great gray bird’s slow gradient rise
and our chest-swelling breath made a tessellation on air,
and hypnotized us out of time for moment.
But who knows how long a moment out of time is,
or how long a rootless algal trance can hold on
to a lake alive with life’s current?
As the heron sculled slowly and close over us,
I took your hand.
Mapped by Heart
for George Dickerson, 1933-2015, in memorium
All the years and photographs you prize —
poses and roles, wars and wives, children
and borders of birthday candles in more
than 40 countries you mapped by heart —
repose in a vaulted chest.
And just when you thought there was no point
but here and now, along comes an exit
from which you began traveling. No lens
ever captured, no light ever emulsified
this place, but you could draw
a map, unspool it like a roll of film.
A picture, rising toward focus like
a fish approaching the surface, nags and drives
you round the pickled suburban town,
until a house you called home
reaches across a lawn you mowed.
Looking up and back, you see yourself
silhouetted in a second floor
memory. You were nine, wondering
out at night and passing freight
trains. The world was a map on your wall.
You memorized capitals, and the war
on a kitchen radio taught you
to listen and read anxiety
on your mother’s face. You traveled
by the sound of names — Lackawana,
Phoebe, Santa Fe — the steady rhythm
of steel, and the long train of promise
and far away carried you to dreams.
Now, you remember that boy,
that longing to go, not yet knowing
that the weight you lean on this cane
is the only geography, that cairns
you’d find in ancient cities are all
that remains of mountains wind
and rain pulverized into hourglass
sand and history, that time and trains
take us near and far from our core
and blizzard the heart with aching for more.
Yes, you remember that boy
you were in that window, dreaming,
sleeping, chin on the sill of the world.